The Unexpected Miss Bennet

As part of our Austen birthday celebrations, we’re delighted to welcome Patrice Sarath, author of The Unexpected Miss Bennett.

“It is a comforting belief among much of society, that a plain girl with a small fortune must have no more interest in matrimony than matrimony has in her.”

The third of five daughters, Miss Mary Bennet is a rather unremarkable girl. With her countenance being somewhere between plain and pretty and in possession of no great accomplishments, few expect the third Bennet daughter to attract a respectable man. But although she is shy and would much prefer to keep her nose stuck in a book, Mary is uncertain she wants to meekly follow the path to spinsterhood set before her…

What an engaging and endearing tale about Mary Bennet! I loved witnessing her gradual transformation, her realization that she can never be something she isn’t, and her newfound understanding of men and relationships. Yes, there is romance in this story! And the hero is just as unexpectedly charming as Mary Bennet!—Austenesque Reviews

Mary Bennet! What appealed to you about her? Austen isn’t very kind to her.

No, Austen was not kind to Mary at all. I don’t think she saw Mary or Kitty as fully fleshed characters. They were more types. Remember that awful scene in P&P where Mary rushes to the piano to show off? I felt so horrible for her even while I understood Lizzy’s embarrassment. But I liked Mary for all that. I saw a book-loving middle sister who wanted attention and was shy and socially awkward. 

I’ve always wondered why Mr. Collins didn’t choose Mary–it’s certainly something that’s been hinted at in movies. Any ideas?

Austen was writing social commentary rather than romance. The reason that Mr. Collins ended up marrying Charlotte is so that Charlotte can exemplify the terrible situation women of Austen’s era found themselves in. If you were very very lucky you married a man for love or at least respect and were well taken care of. But more than likely you had to make a very pragmatic match and you had very few options. And Charlotte looks around pragmatically at her situation and moves in, snaring Mr. Collins to secure herself a position. Charlotte has that great speech about men and women and being sure of one’s potential suitor and Lizzy rejects her argument, but I think in that moment, Austen herself was speaking through Charlotte.

Of course, that just left the field open to me. I decided to write about exactly why Mr. Collins never saw Mary as a potential wife and had a lot of fun with it. 

I’ve always suspected it was because Lady Catherine wouldn’t see Mary as suitable wife material! What made you change genres from fantasy to Austen-related fiction?

I didn’t make a permanent shift. I am still writing fantasy, both with the continuation of my current series and the new projects I’m working on. But I read in all genres and see no reason not to write in all of them. I don’t want to limit myself. 

How do you handle the Austen worldbuilding–any favorite research books or sites?

Oh goodness, Shades of Pemberley is one of the best sites out there. I also visited Jane Austen’s house in Chawton, went to Bath, and read and reread all of her books looking for phrasing, word choices, slice of life vignettes so I could get at what it was like to live back then (Emma is best for this by the way) and things like that. I am not a research hound but I try to know and understand more than ends up in the book. 

I’m an Emma fan too. Which is your favorite Austen?

I knew you would ask that! My favorite is Pride & Prejudice. But Austen’s best book is Persuasion, and there are bits of it that edge out P&P for sheer enjoyment. 

We’re celebrating Austen on and off this month at the Riskies since her birthday falls on 16th. What are you doing to celebrate?

I’m taking part in Austen’s Birthday Soiree, which is being hosted by Maria Grazia of My Jane Austen Book Club. But here’s the funny thing. Even before I wrote The Unexpected Miss Bennet, I’ve always noted Jane Austen’s birthday on the calendar. You know how in January you fill in all the birthdays and anniversaries for the family on the new calendar? Well, Jane Austen, Joan of Arc, John Lennon, and random celebrities have always been written in. So in a way, I’ve always celebrated and lifted a glass to her on the 16th. 

What’s next for you?

The most recent project is underway; it’s a modern fantasy. I’m also editing my third book in my Gordath Wood series, which reboots the series from a different character’s point of view, and her adventures in a fantasy world. Also, I have Kitty’s story yet to tell, but I need to find exactly the right way to get to the truth behind her character, as I did with Mary.

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you on Risky Regencies.

What do you think of Mary Bennett? Or is there any other minor Austen character whose story you’d like to learn? Your comment or question enters you into a drawing for a copy of the book, so let’s get chatting!

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10 years ago

Interesting post. I too was embarrassed for poor Mary during the piano playing scene. Would love to read a book about her. Thanks for the giveaway.

10 years ago

I always felt like Mary’s trouble lay in trying too hard to compete for her father’s approval. She wants to be seen, like Lizzy and Jane, as an accomplished, intelligent young lady. But she does this by completely eschewing the humor and frivolity that characterize her youngest sisters, not realizing that these quantities are present in her elder sisters, too (though regulated by discretion and manners). So in trying to be serious and sensible, she gets lumped in with the “silliest girls in the country.”

It’s a tough place for a person to be in. I always cherished the hope that she, like Kitty, improved once there were fewer sisters to whom she was constantly compared.

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

Welcome to the Riskies, Patrice!

Poor Mary! The classic middle child, belonging neither to the accomplished and ladylike older sisters, nor the frivolous, silly younger ones.

Thanks for giving Mary her own HEA!!!

Patrice Sarath
10 years ago

Hi Diane,
Thank you and thanks to everyone for their comments. I too feel that Mary was the classic middle child striving for her father’s attention. I have her grow up in my story but she retains her essential Mary-ness.

10 years ago

I am always drawn in to a story in which the character makes a negative first impression and over the course of the book is revealed as someone quite different. Mary appeals to me in this way. She didn’t get her chance with Austen; I am glad that you have given her a rebirth.

Louisa Cornell
10 years ago

What a wonderful idea! I too hurt for Mary, always striving to be seen as the equal of her sisters. I’ll be very interested to meet the gentleman smart enough to look beyond the facade.

I’ve always been interested to know what happened to Mr. Rochester’s ward. She had such an interesting background and I know Jane would ensure she felt wanted and loved. I would love to know what Adele as a young woman.

And, of course, Georgianna Darcy would make an intriguing romance heroine as well.

10 years ago

@ Louisa Cornell: P.D. James lastest book, “Death Comes to Pemberley”, was published Tuesday. It got a very nice review in today’s Washington Post and evidently contains not one but two possible suitors for Georgiana Darcy. I definitely plan to put it on my wish list for the holidays.

Elena Greene
10 years ago

I’ve always felt sorry for Mary too, having been an awkward lost soul at that age (and still sometimes). This book sounds very intriguing, and I have to confess I’m not usually tempted by Austen spin-offs.

Jane George
10 years ago

Yes, Louisa! I want to know Georgianna’s story too.

I’m glad Mr. Collins didn’t choose Mary, for Mary’s sake. I think Mary is so pious because she’s insecure, and hopefully she grows out of that. Plus, I like Charlotte’s speech, it grounds the novel.

10 years ago

Thank you for an interesting post. I hadn’t really thought about Mary or Kitty being a bit like “place fillers” but they do seem to be. In a way, the way they are represented in the book is the way they are treated as characters. They are telling us “I am being ignored, would someone please pay attention to me. I have a story and it is worth writing.” I am so glad you saw that and gave us Mary’s story. I will be glad to see who Kitty really is.