Summary of The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough:
Everyone knows the story of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. But what about their sister Mary? At the conclusion of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Mary, bookish, awkward, and by all accounts, unmarriageable, is sentenced to a dull, provincial existence in the backwaters of Britain. Now, master storyteller Colleen McCullough rescues Mary from her dreary fate with The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, a page-turning sequel set twenty years after Austen’s novel closes.
The story begins as the neglected Bennet sister is released from the stultifying duty of caring for her insufferable mother. Though many would call a woman of Mary’s age a spinster, she has blossomed into a beauty to rival that of her famed sisters. Her violet eyes and perfect figure bewitch the eligible men in the neighborhood, but though her family urges her to marry, romance and frippery hold no attraction. Instead, she is determined to set off on an adventure of her own. Fired with zeal by the newspaper letters of the mysterious Argus, she resolves to publish a book about the plight of England’s poor. Plunging from one predicament into another, Mary finds herself stumbling closer to long-buried secrets, unanticipated dangers, and unlooked-for romance.
Meanwhile, the other dearly loved characters of Pride and Prejudice fret about the missing Mary while they contend with difficulties of their own. Darcy’s political ambitions consume his ardor, and he bothers with Elizabeth only when the impropriety of her family seems to threaten his career. Lydia, wild and charming as ever, drinks and philanders her way into dire straits; Kitty, a young widow of means, occupies herself with gossip and shopping; and Jane, naive and trusting as ever, spends her days ministering to her crop of boys and her adoring, if not entirely faithful, husband. Yet, with the shadowy and mysterious figure of Darcy’s right-hand man, Ned Skinner, lurking at every corner, it is clear that all is not what it seems at idyllic Pemberley. As the many threads of Colleen McCullough’s masterful plot come together, shocking truths are revealed, love, both old and new, is tested, and all learn the value of true independence in a novel for every woman who has wanted to leave her mark on the world.
The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet is not the most popular of Pride and Prejudice sequels. Darcy and Elizabeth do not spend 99% of their time having sex, and he does not cater to her hand and foot all the days of their lives.
*shrugs* Sorry. Those things don’t happen in reality. Colleen McCullough had the gumption to write something that could have.
I DO think that Darcy’s buttheadedness WAS a little extreme on two points:
1. Caroline Bingley. Obviously she isn’t his favorite person, and I think I am correct in saying that he knows she is full of it. But yet he believes the horrible things she says about his son? I don’t know about that one. You find out a few things about Darcy’s own father towards the end of the story, and I suppose those things could have clouded Darcy’s parenting skills. But, I wasn’t wholly satisfied on that point.
2. That leads to my second point: the way he treats all his children in general. All but wholly dismissing them from his presence…and not treating them very well at all when they were around. Not cool. One of Darcy’s best qualities in P&P was the way he doted on his sister, and I cannot see him being so beastly to his daughters. (and for no real reason!) Speaking of, his sister was only mentioned in this story, I think in reality they would have had much more contact with each other then this book suggests.
My third gripe of the story is with Elizabeth. She is supposed to have gumption! She loses herself for awhile because she is so devastated by how her relationship has turned out…but she finally grows a backbone again toward the end (gave Miss Caroline Bingley a good tongue lashing!), and I really felt like she was back. I was then VERY disappointed when, at one point in the story, she accepted Darcy’s (albeit heartfelt) apologies without making him WORK for her affections back 😛 She should have made him earn it.
But, in general, I was very satisfied with The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. It does have an extremely happy conclusion, and no one is perfect or has the ultimate ideal life…so come on. If you pass this up because you are scared to read about Darcy being a jerk, you will miss out on one fantastically written book (and you also apparently weren’t paying attention to the first half of Pride & Prejudice either).
The book is, of course, equally about Mary. But McCullough basically had free reign with her story since she is so little a part of P&P. I think most reviewers’ complaints came from the Darcys’ story, so that is where I put in my two cents. Her story is a little out there, I’ll give you that. But it was enjoyable and it was nice to see Mary finally having a voice! The Mary parts were very fun to read.
So, I definitely recommend giving The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet a try. Colleen McCullough is definitely a master storyteller in my book, and she wields her pen well in this continuation of a classic.