The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet

Written by Colleen McCullough
Review by Helene Williams

Whatever became of Mary Bennet, the middle sister of the five young ladies memorialized in Pride and Prejudice? Not nearly as witty as Lizzie, who won Mr. Darcy’s heart, nor as pure as Jane, who married Mr. Bingley, not as cute as Kitty, nor as naughty as Lydia, who ran off with Mr. Wickham—with her crooked tooth, spotty skin, and horrible singing voice, Mary spent a lot of time being ignored. Until now, that is, when Colleen McCullough tells us what happened.

Now, gentle reader, please be forewarned: the characters of this novel may have the same names as those of Austen’s book, but the personalities have changed, the language is shockingly different, and the nuances of tone, emotion, and plot have all disappeared. What we have instead is a coarse coincidence-riddled adventure centered on the newly-emancipated Mary. She has spent the last seventeen years as companion to her silly mother, hidden away at Shelby Manor, days distant from Pemberley. Mary has used this time to educate herself, however, and with her tooth fixed, her skin clear, and her beautiful violet eyes yearning to see the wider world, she spurns Fitzwilliam Darcy’s meager settlement investment and draws out the funds to support her research into the poverty-stricken peoples of the country. Her adventure goes awry almost immediately, and the Darcy and Bennet families spring into action, aided by Darcy’s friend Angus Sinclair, who unwittingly gave Mary the idea for this scheme in the first place. He and Charlie Darcy, son of Lizzie and Fitz, are two of the few likeable (or believable) characters in this tale.

Read the story for what it is: an early 19th-century romp through the seamier side of England, and pay no heed to any passing reference to people you thought you knew.