‘The Other Bennet Sister’ by Janice Hadlow

 

As the name suggests, it is a spin off from the Jane Austen world of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, the protagonist being Mary, the Bennet sister who got the least pages dedicated to her in the book. While Jane and Elizabeth were the stars in the original story, our author here imagines the world from Mary’s perspective. We get a glimpse of her childhood, the events of marriages and ball rooms from her eyes, her ambitions in life and her potential romantic encounters. Mary as a character is fully developed in this book, which is such a joy to read. Perfect Jane Austen vibes.

Mary spends her days unnoticed, hidden from limelight, seldom receiving appreciation for her talent in piano or her scholarly pursuits. She lives a rather lonely existence. I identify my younger self – timid teenage self with Mary. Awkward and shy in social settings, may not really come across as the smart one with interesting conversations to offer in social gatherings. Dressing plain and unflattering clothes, so as not to draw attention, engaging more in library and books than in human connects. Seeking solace in words and pages.

The novel is also a study on love, companionship, and matrimony. Mary goes to stay with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and sees their love blossom even after years of marriage, but it makes her feel excluded and an unwanted guest in their close-knit household full of love and comfort. She goes to visit Charlotte and Mr. Collins – theirs is a marriage of convenience, devoid of love in the beginning and years have done nothing to bring them closer. Theirs is a marriage that works on how well both avoid each other, on a daily basis. Their interests do not match, they both like to pass time differently. They both seem lonely. Then there’s Mr. and Mrs. Gardener, who have neither too much of riches/luxury, nor beauty but seem to be the happiest of couples even after so many years of togetherness. They are equals, partners in entrepreneurial pursuits and each respected the other. They were grateful for the other’s presence and companionship. Jest and humor seemed to pervade their lives without any space for sorrow, loneliness or melancholy.

Part 1 of the novel was sad as Mary lived as ignored and easily dismissed child in the Bennet household, teased by her sisters, not a kind word from her mother, hers was a dismal unhappy existence. But Part 2 was all about newness in environment and situation. All of her sisters married and settled, she was unsure what to make of her situation then. It was only she and her mother, not a great company either would appreciate. She was too dull for her mother. And her mother too rude and unkind for her. They visited Jane (Mrs. Bingley), Lizzy (Mrs. Darcy), Charlotte (Mrs. Collins) and finally her aunt (Mrs. Gardener).

Part 3 is the real beginning of something fruitful in Mary’s life – an excitement of sorts, a hint of romance, adoration from eligible gentlemen of the good society and nature expeditions. There’s Tom, whom they met at the garments shop and frequent visitor at the Gardeners. He challenges her to read poetry, recommends her a book every now and then. And she challenges him to read historical volumes, opening the ground for scholarly discussions on his every next visit. As they share their passions for reading and debate, I too yearn for such a company. It’s been long since that happened. They go to fairs together with family and friends, visit places in London at dawn – the scenes which inspired famous poetry verses by Wordsworth – marveling at the words as the scene unfolded before their very eyes. They trip to the Lakes – that package of nature’s bounty with the forests, the grasslands, the quaint inn, the hills, mountain ranges, and the view of the sea from atop and Scotland beyond the horizon. The leisurely vibes in these chapters was so soothing as they sketched away their hours, indulged in romantic tirades, and enjoyed elaborate dinners.

And there’s this tension in the air, the jealousy apparent with Will’s presence, one who doesn’t hold back his affections for Mary, making them known to her with infectious enthusiasm. Will doesn’t abide by the societal rules, customs, the idea of observing discretion, and proprietary gestures, rather he is utmost direct in expressing his thoughts and feelings. Who does Mary finally end up with?

The book is so engrossing, so immersive, love the narrative, love the writer. Want to read another work by Janice Hadlow. Hope to soon.

 


This post is a part of Blogchatter Half Marathon 2023.

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Queeristan by Parmesh Sahani

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  Queeristan (Amazon Link) Thanks to Audible Free Trial I listened to this amazing non-fiction on LGBTQ inclusion in Indian workplaces. Author Parmesh Sahani identifies as gay Indian, working closely with Godrej higher management and employees for years to create an inclusive workplace, both legally and in spirit. This book is a result of those years of experience, research, collaboration with individuals from difference spectrum of the society and organizations who has successfully transitioned into a queer friendly one.   Indian history is inclusive. From the Khajuraho temple architectures, to Konark to the Rig Veda, there is existing proofs even 2000 years ago of Indian inclusiveness of queer. It’s the draconian British law that criminalised it, which was scraped in 2009, came into effect once again following a sad judgement in 2013 and eventually was scraped off for good in 2018. I am in awe of the lawyers who fought this legal battle- colleagues and partners – Arundhati Katju

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