Thursday, 21 September 2017
A Match for Mary Bennet by Eucharista Ward
Mary Bennet is not portrayed too kindly in Pride and Prejudice. She is right in the middle, the third of five sisters, and possesses none of their wit, beauty or vivacity. Bookish and prim, she is a bit of a caricature.
"Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached". Ouch.
This much-mocked sister is a magnet for Pride and Prejudice spin-offs and sequels. Far from being a neglected minor character, she takes centre stage in several novels, while her illustrious sisters fade in the background.
A Match for Mary Bennet is written by Eucharista Ward, who is a Franciscan nun.
Not sure how much this is relevant to the creation of the novel, but religion plays an important part in Mary's world outlook and everyday life. She's pious and goes to the church not because she has to, but because she loves it. She intends to follow God's path for her life, and believes with three sisters married, she can leave her life as a spinster happily ever after.
Not surprising, as the eligible bachelors around her do not inspire much affection.
There is a foppish Mr Stilton who has a not so hidden agenda: he wants to marry Mary or anyone really just to get hold of his inheritance.
There is a grumpy Mr Grantley who likes to discuss serious matters with Mary and who believes that young women go to the balls only to catch a prospective husband.
And then there is a sweet but rather spineless clergyman, Mr Oliver, who enjoys book-binding and who chuckles, reading St Augustine's City of God in Latin. He is not as pompous as Mr Collins but who nevertheless comes up with such an effected and pretentious declaration of love: "I fell asleep in Inferno, and the candle went out. I awoke in Purgatorio. But all the light is on now. I have found Paradiso".
Having found her soul mate, Mary changes her views on matrimony and there are even references to "spouse's physical pleasure" (that's as daring as it gets when a nun describes sex).
The novel treats all its characters sympathetically and is quite harmless as it doesn't change their personalities dramatically or place them into the totally unbelievable situations (like in another Mary Bennet's spin-off created by McCollough).
There were minor things that made me wonder just how authentic it would be, for example, the Darcys call their second son Bennet, or Darcy serves himself ham (where are his servants?); Mary gets a rasher of bacon from her sister to cook breakfast and then slices it (just one rasher?). The Darcys were too lovey-dovey, with Elizabeth losing her wit and irony altogether and turning into an almost simpering wife, who even sheds a tear for Lady Catherine.
It is a likable and charming story, but it does lack Austen's wit and style.
Janeites will rejoice at being reunited with famous characters - the Darcys and Bingleys, the Bennets, Lady Catherine, and many others.