Monday, October 19, 2009

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet - Book Review

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet
by Colleen McCullough
McArthur & Company

Everyone who has ever read good literature knows about the Bennets. That family from Pride and Prejudice with 5 daughters - Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Lydia and Kitty.

The time is now 20 years after the end of P&P. Mrs Bennet has just died. And everyone gets together for the funeral.

Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy are still married. They have 5 children - Charles, Georgiana, Susan, Anne and Cathy. The Bennet Curse is what Darcy calls it. Their marriage is floundering because there are no more sons and the one son they do have, is not living up to Darcy's expectations. Darcy no longer visits Lizzie's bed.

Jane is still married to Charles Bingley. They have 8 living children (7 boys and 1 girl) but Jane has lost 4 other babies and she looks older than her years.

Lydia ia still Mrs George Wickam, but is now an alcoholic (in modern terms). George has been sent to various wars and lately to America - purely to keep him away from Lydia. Once again this is Darcy's doing.

Kitty had made the best marriage. She married Lord Menadew. She had a coming out season in London and was able to capture a Lord.

Caroline Bingley is still not married and she still lusts after Fitzwilliam Darcy.

And then there is Mary. The middle Bennet daughter. The one who was left to care for Mama Bennet after the other daughters all had their scandals and left home. Darcy has paid an allowance to Mary to care for Mrs Bennet for the last 17 years.

Mary has not be a docile daughter for all these years. No way. She has read every single book in the library. When she finally meets up with Elizabeth at their mothers funeral, she can see how tired Jane is from so many pregnancies. She makes a statement to Elizabeth that is shocking.

"I know I am not supposed to be aware of such things, Lizzie, but can't someone tell brother Charles to plug it with a cork??"

"Mary!! How do you know of such things, How can you be so indelicate?" exclaims Lizzie in shock.

"I know because I have read every book in the library, and I am tired of delicacy about subjects that lie so close to our female fates." is Mary's reply.

This is the first sign of Mary being independent. Fitzwilliam tries to have Mary come live at Pemberley as a proper spinster of their class should. Mary refuses and makes her own plans. Mary has become enamoured of a person named Argus who writes letters to the newspapers about the social inequalities between the upper and lower classes.

Mary decide to write a book about the poor people and the best way to know about the poor, is to go out and live like a poor person. So Mary sets out on a trip by stage coach (not the post mail which is for the upper class). She is leered at and groped by men and gets lost of the hills of Darbyshire. When she refuses one too many men, she is hit over the head by one man and then abducted by another man. She is then forced to be his scribe and to write down his thoughts on religion. He has a following of young children, who disappear when they turn 12 or 13.

For 2 months the family search for her - most of this searching is done by Ned Summers - a half black man (his mother was from Jamaica) and a very close friend of Darcy's. Darcy too has secrets, secrets he has never told Lizzie in 20 years of marriage.

Finally Mary is able to escape from her captor and is eventually found and rescued. The Bennets decide to start up an orphanage for these children who have no idea where they come from and therefore have no home parish to go to.

Lizzie and Fitzwilliam beging talking and Lizzie explains why she no longer allows Fitz into her bed. She felt that he raped her on their wedding night. What to him was passion, to her was rape (although she did not use that word). She said it was by force. She would lay there as a statue while he did his business. This went on for the next 10 years until he stopped visiting.

Fitzwilliam is devastated about how his actions were perceived. He promises to show Lizzie how good love can really be. At age 50, his passions are no longer uncontrollable as they used to be when he was 30.

There are 2 deaths within the Bennet family. One is a Bennet daughter. The other is Ned Summers. Finally all the secrets are coming out.

Oh and Mary (by now only 36) finds her true love and gets married as well. She gives birth to a healthy boy. Lizzie too has another child (at age 41) - finally a second son.

I really really enjoyed this book. I love Mary. I too am a middle child and I too an somewhat independent. I love how Mary tries her best to be independent in that day and age (early 1800s) but how she is used and abused just because it is assumed, by the men, that women have no brains and are good for nothing except making babies. Even in the 21st century, men still think this way about women.

GRR that makes me so MAD!!!

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