Friday, April 18, 2014

A Classic Sequel

This week I had the fun of chatting with Pamela Mingle  about The Pursuit of Mary Bennet, her sequel to Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice. As someone who herself set out to build on a well-known story—in my case, Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905)—I had a particular interest in why, and how, another author decided to undertake this task. Add in the fact that we both like Georgette Heyer, and you can see that this was a conversation begging to happen.

Although The Scarlet Pimpernel has spawned about twenty sequels, a highly regarded film starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon, at least two televised versions, a spinoff series, and a musical, it still can’t hold a candle to Pride and Prejudice in terms of sheer popularity. As Mingle notes in this month’s interview for New Books in Historical Fiction, the most difficult part of her project was overcoming the intimidating influence of Austen’s reputation to find a faithful yet innovative take on the five Bennet daughters and their destinies. Her solution to this problem was to avoid Elizabeth Bennet and her husband, Mr. Darcy—both of whom already have numerous novels devoted to them—and not to try to imitate Austen’s inimitable style but to tell her own story focused on a character from the original whom most people ignore.

It’s a highly successful approach, and although a book published by William Morrow cannot really be considered a Hidden Gem, I’m going to add it to my list of them anyway. With all the books that appear in print every day, it’s easy to overlook a treasure like this one—and for those of us who like sweet, smart historical romance with a classical bent, that would be a pity.

If you do like this novel, Pamela Mingle has also written Kissing Shakespeare, a YA novel published by Delacorte Books in 2012.

The rest of this post comes from the New Books in Historical Fiction site.

It seems fair to say that a large proportion of the English-speaking reading public has encountered Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice, either in print or in one of the many adaptations for stage, screen, and television. At the same time, the number of avid Austen readers who remember much about Mary, the third of the five Bennet sisters, is almost certainly small. Mary rates so little time on the page that scholars have questioned the need for her existence: could Austen not have made her point with three daughters, or at most four?

Mary is the sister in the middle—solemn and unattractive, liable to put her foot in her mouth at any moment, more enthusiastic than skilled at the piano. She is, in modern terms, the perfect subject for a makeover—which she receives to great effect in The Pursuit of Mary Bennet.

Three years after the events in Pride and Prejudice, Mary is dwindling into spinsterhood, in her own mind and that of her mother—a grim future for a gentlewoman in Regency England, one that would doom her to a life dependent on the kindness of others. Mary’s mother is already planning to send her off on the first of what promises to be a series of assignments as a high-class nursemaid, not quite a servant but not her own mistress either.

When Mary’s scandalous youngest sister arrives unannounced on her parents’ doorstep, Mary’s life takes an unexpected turn. Love, even marriage, becomes possible. But Mary has learned the hard way not to trust her instincts, and it will take a great deal to convince her that happiness lies within her reach.

As Pamela Mingle notes, it is not easy to step into Austen’s shoes. All the more credit to her, therefore, for doing such a wonderful job.

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