Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

The allure of Jane Austen’s novels continues to captivate both readers and writers. The enduring romance of Emma and Mr Knightley and Lizzy and Mr Darcy has left an indelible impression on readers. Colin Firth assisted considerably with the enduring love affair readers have had with Mr Darcy after appearing as the strikingly pompous Mr Darcy in the famed 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

The popularity of Jane Austen’s novels has led to a deluge of remixes, some contemporary, but many set n the same era. Last year P. D. James admitted to her life long passion of Jane Austen’s work culminating in her latest book Death Comes to Pemberley.  James continued the story of Pride and Prejudice six years after Lizzy and Mr Darcy had been married, but was careful not to alter the lovable relationship Lizzy and Mr Darcy had at the end of Pride and Prejudice.

Publishers continue to feed the reader’s desire for Austenesque novels. Later this year HarperCollins will be releasing Joanna Trollope’s hotly anticipated rewrite of Sense and Sensibility. Next year, we will no doubt see a number of Pride and Prejudice remixes published as Austen fans celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice.

Paynter has taken the least exciting of the Bennet sisters, Mary Bennet, and told the story of Pride and Prejudice from her point of view. Not only do we get an insight into Mary’s astute observations of her sisters and the various suitors that step over the threshold of the Bennet household, but we are also treated to Paynter’s fictional version of Mary’s life beyond Longbourn.

In the original Mary Bennet is a plain girl with a moderate aptitude for playing the piano and a rather irritating habit of quoting the Bible at every possible moment. Her solution to all vexations is to, as Lizzy Bennet put it, ‘be a philosopher’. Paynter has kept Mary’s fascination with the Bible referencing it regularly:

“I sat, heart beating hard, recalling the words of the Ninth Commandment while Elizabeth regarded me with a sceptical little smile.”

The descriptions of  Mary’s physical character ring true to Austen’s original:

“You may not have the beauty of your elder sisters, but you have a very sweet, expressive countenance and a fine, delicate complexion. Your eyes, I think, are your best feature – it is a great pity that you are obliged to wear spectacles.”

Paynter has used the first part of her novel to retell Pride and Prejudice from Mary Bennet’s point of view. She perceives each male suitor in the correct light. Her quiet solitary character allows for easy observation. The second half of the book is where the reader discovers more about Mary’s life and her own secret desire for a quite unsuitable suitor. Mary has to overcome her own prejudice as her heart leads her in a new direction.

Australian fans of Jane Austen will be delighted with the inclusion of Australia, deftly put into this remix of Pride and Prejudice.

Sydney author Paynter has elegantly retold with a daring new twist. There is enough of the original story in ‘Mary Bennet’ to appease Austen fans, but it is the account of the forgotten sister, beyond Longbourn, that really makes this book something special.

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