Clearly written with a movie or miniseries in mind, but a fun read nonetheless -- though true Jane Austen devotees would probably cringe. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2008) picks up almost 20 years after Pride and Prejudice ends, with somewhat disappointing fates for our favorite characters. Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage is strained to the point that, as their son puts it, their five children can skate upon the ice between them. They scarcely talk save to argue, and Darcy, now an MP, pours all his ardor into his quest to become Prime Minister; their intimacy has dwindled to the point that Elizabeth is certain Fitz must have a mistress. Moreover, he's sorely disappointed in the gentle, effeminate character and scholarly bent of their sole son, 17-year-old Charlie. Meanwhile, as Jane's near-constant pregnancies attest, her marriage to Bingley remains strong in at least one respect (so much so that title character Mary, suggests he should "plug it with a cork" for the sake of her sister's health), but that doesn't stop her large brood of sons from running wild, or Bingley from taking a mistress and maintaining a second family in Jamaica.
In contrast, sister Mary's prospects have improved over the years -- though her family doesn't necessarily see it that way at first. Now 39 and quite beautiful, she is finally released from long, dull years as her mother's caregiver by Mrs. Bennet's death. Lizzie and Jane assume she'll come to live with one of them, and Darcy and Bingley provide her with an ungenerous settlement that allows little else ... but Mary has other plans. Not inclined either to stay on with her sisters as maiden aunt, or to find herself a husband as many advise, she takes all her funds at once and sets off to tour the slums and factories of northern England, determined to write and publish a book about the plight of the nation's poor. However, for all she's read over the years, her existence has been a sheltered one, and she's dangerously lacking in street smarts; not surprisingly, she's derailed by one mishap after another before she gets too far.
In their efforts to stop and then to rescue Mary, Darcy and Charlie are forced to work together, albeit stiffly at first. They are aided by newspaper publisher Angus Sinclair, family friend and ghostwriter of the muckraking "Argus" letters that inspired Mary's quest in the first place; Charlie's tutor Owen, who becomes a rare male friend to the cloistered Darcy sisters, especially tomboyish Georgie; and Ned Skinner, a behemoth of a man whose mysterious devotion to Fitz begets more than a few dark acts.
All in all, this was a decent vacation read (sheesh, have I been saying that a lot lately?) ... and I'll even look forward to watching the miniseries I know must be in the works. (Theatrical pacing + old favorite story + author of The Thorn Birds = what else would you expect?)
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.