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!