The other Bennet sister – review

Escaping lockdown life in Melbourne isn’t easy – 5k boundaries, permitted worker permits, night curfews. But, my friends, we do have our books!

I have recently escaped lockdown life in Melbourne by immersing myself in Janice Hadlow’s novel, The other Bennet sister, published a few months ago. Thanks to my well-read friend Steve for recommending it!

Jane Austen fans, you will know this title refers to Mary Bennet, the sister from Austen’s Pride and prejudice given the least amount of page space. Mary has no chance for more space, given she has to compete with her sisters – Jane’s beauty, Elizabeth’s wit and the silliness of Kitty and Lydia. But now Hadlow has given Mary a book of her own, and gosh, it’s a thick one at 655 pages.

Austen wrote one of the most memorable opening sentences in Pride and prejudiceIt is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Hadlow echoes this with her opening line – It is a sad fact of life that if a young woman is unlucky enough to come into the world without expectation, she had better do all she can to ensure she is born beautiful. To be poor and handsome is misfortune enough; but to be penniless and plain is a hard fate indeed.

The other Bennet sister follows the story of Mary, showing her part in the story covered in Pride and prejudice, but then going on to show Mary’s life post Elizabeth and Jane’s weddings. I found this novel totally absorbing and felt transported back to nineteenth-century England, back to Pemberley, Netherfields, Longbourn and London, and on to the Lakes District. Hadlow writes so convincingly in Austen’s voice and her portrayal of all the familiar characters is authentic. I do have a slight quibble with Mr Collins but I’m prepared to let this minor character’s new temperament slide.

It inspired me to watch both the BBC version of Pride and prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the movie with Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfayden. Really, who needs to go out?

And I guess I could go back and reread all the Austen books. My grandparents gave me a hardback copy of Austen’s novels – one big volume – when I was a teenager. I still have it, but I bought myself a beautiful pale blue and gold box set of Austen’s novels a while ago so I would not give myself repetitive strain injury while simply reading!

So, really, with all this Austen goodness available, who needs to go out? Let me know, are you an Austen fan?

9 comments

  1. I am a huge Austen fan and I have read some of the ‘fan fiction’ novels that have sprung up over the years. I had my eye on this one and since you have recommended it so highly, I will delve in. There is something very comforting about Austen’s prose. Perfect for times like this.

  2. I’ll have to give this one a go. Am a mad JA fan. I often wonder if writers use Austen in their writing to ensure commercial success – always works in me.

  3. I love Jane Austen. I’ve read all her novels and watched all movies of her books.
    I still remember writing an essay in my HSC (so long ago) about the picnic at Box Hill (Emma).
    There was another novel about Mary by Colleen McCullough (The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet) which I’ve also read.”Death Comes to Pemberley” by P.D James is also good.
    I will look forward to reading “The Other Miss Bennet”. I hope I manage 655 pages.
    Another book I found in a second hand bookshop is “Jane Austen”s World” by Maggie Lane. It’s non-fiction and discusses her novels, family and the times she lived in. Thanks Karen for another good suggestion.

  4. I’m in! Thanks for sharing your latest recommendation. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy. With more ‘quiet’ weeks ahead here, now seems like a perfect time to delve into Mary’s story and be transported back to P&P times.

      1. Karen, I loved this story! I reached the end, and wanted to hear more of this wonderful story of Mary Bennett. For me, this was a story of ‘all good things come to those who wait, or who make it happen’! Mary seemed the happiest and most in love of the Bennett bunch. I’ve recommended this to another dear friend, so thank you!

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