The Other Bennet Sister

Written by Janice Hadlow
Review by Karen Warren

Based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this is the story of Mary Bennet, the plain and quiet middle sister who likes to read and play the piano. Treated unkindly by her mother, and with few friends in the world, her life becomes a precarious round of visiting her married sisters, with little to look forward to. Mary tries to occupy herself with her learning but starts to wonder if there should be more to life. The Other Bennet Sister tells of her quest for personal happiness.

As a Jane Austen tribute novel, this book has plenty to recommend it. Hadlow is excellent in capturing the social nuances of the time. She shows the reality of middle-class women’s lives: the endless tedium and the economic and social necessity to find a suitable husband. I liked the characterisation of Mary but must confess to some dismay at the unsympathetic portrayal of Mrs Bennet: Mary’s plight shows how important it was for a family in reduced circumstances to marry its daughters well.

However, as a historical novel I don’t think the book works so well. It is very light on historical detail: apart from the occasional description of clothes or fabrics, there is little to allow the reader to form a picture of the daily life of the times. This may be because the author has modelled herself closely on Jane Austen, who provided little context for her stories, but modern readers are less familiar with that world and might like more background information. That criticism aside, if you read it as social commentary, and to find out what happened to Mary Bennet, then this is a most enjoyable novel.