Book Reviewer, Miguelina Perez shares her thoughts in this book review on "The Unexpected Miss Bennet," by Patrice Sarath
In Ms. Sarath’s “The Unexpected Miss Bennet” Mary Bennet gets her happy ending, but not before going through her own journey of self-alienation and then –discovery. Miss Bennet has often been portrayed as the least appealing of the Bennet girls.
Ms. Sarath’s Mary is quite plain, indeed, and because of her overzealous faith in God brings about her own self-alienation from her family and society ― like Jeremiah, who had peace with God, but was very lonely in the world; for in his day, very few people followed the Lord.
While it is assumed that the other key characters, with the exception of Lady de Bourgh, were Christians, none of their faiths were to the extent of those given to Mary Bennet’s character; whose consistent sermonizing and self-righteous attitude kept everyone at bay. Even Mr. Collins, a man of the cloth, who chooses to openly worship Lady de Bourgh more than God, himself, does not suffer from self-alienation, perhaps because he is focused more on a materialistic world and not a spiritual one.
“The Unexpected Miss Bennet” begins with Mrs. Bennet admitting to Jane that after getting Kitty married she would no longer have the energy to marry off Mary. That Mary will remain a comfort for her in her old age. For which then once she passes on, Jane would have to make herself responsible for her unmarried sister. Jane agrees and writes to Lizzy about her concerns for Mary. Lizzy designs a plan to have Mary stay with her for a while hoping to introduce her into society.
In the meantime, during a party Mary is playing the piano while a group danced when a young man comes by and asks her if she is not too tired of playing. In her usual manner, Mary responds ‘Music is the balm that comforts our soul,’ Mr. Aikens is unaffected by her comment, where as any other young man would have thought her strange. He tells her that he could never sit still long enough to do something over and over. He then invites her to dance and find out which one was more exhilarating, dancing or playing music. Mary is about to reply, when Maria Lucas intervenes, telling Mr. Aikens that ‘Mary doesn’t dance – if she did we would have no one to play…’ The young man is then forced to dance with Maria. Mary takes a moment from the keys of the piano to watch them dance.
In this scene we begin to see that this is the end of the Mary, we have grown to know, and a new Mary, who begins to question herself and faith, emerges. The piano no longer holds interest to Mary, nor do the sermons from Fordyce that once brought her comfort. Even days, after the party, Mary is still disturbed by her encounter with Mr. Aikens. Her lack in self-confidence and ardor for her faith in God had for a longtime given her a false sense of fulfillment, which she now begins to question.
Ms. Sarath elegantly begins Mary’s journey into self-discovery and eventual road from a plain girl to a pretty Bennet girl by using vivid imagery and well thought out contemplations from Mary about her life, her sisters’ lives as married women, marriage, loneliness and family. As Mary communes with nature and makes friends, she begins to change physically, emotionally and spiritually. Ms. Sarath is not saying that in order for Mary to have become pretty she needed to give up on her faith, but rather through self-discovery as a child of God and her desire to be find a happiness that had for so long eluded her, she becomes whole – hence a physical manifestation takes place. And it is through this wholeness, she succeeds freeing herself from her self-imposed prison. Hence, freeing herself not only to love, but to have a healthy relationship with God.
The author’s writing is filled with wonderful thoughts, emotions and vibrant characters, as she captures Jane Austen’s characters from Pride and Prejudice, almost as if her hand was being guided by none other than Ms. Austen herself. She keeps true to the language of the period and the angst felt by the women of that era on finding a husband, leading a life of loneliness or hoping that some relative would take pity on her and hence providing her with a home in her old age.
This story is sure to become a classic among Austen fans. There is more to the story including the hateful Lady de Bourgh and her daughter Anne. Even Mr. Darcy makes an appearance, but in order for me to tell more, it would no longer be a book review, but perhaps a dissertation. I mean that in the most respectful way, because Ms. Sarath raises a lot issues about the anxieties of a self-righteous society and its expectations, which I am pretty sure would make an excellent paper. Who knows I may be up to the challenge. I had initially downloaded the Kindle version for this book, but after reading it, I thought my library merited a hard copy.
Where to find "The Unexpected Miss Bennet" online:
For a copy of Ms. Sarath’s "The Unexpected Miss Bennet" in Kindle form or paperback, please visit The Unexpected Miss Bennet – Patrice Sarath