Review: The Unexpected Miss Bennet by Patrice Sarath

4.5 out of 5 romantic stars

I am reading Austen in Augst – check out The Book Rat if you would like to learn more!

This was wonderful! I love it when an Austen story is continued and the characters are kept true to who they are. This focuses on the unexpected Miss Bennet – Mary, the one everyone has always overlooked, the “plain” one. We join our favorite Austen family shortly after the two eldest are happily married. Mrs. Bennet has decided that Mary is the throwaway – the one that stays with her parents until they die and then is foisted on one of her sisters – most likely Jane. It has been decided that Kitty, the youngest remaining, will go with Jane and Bingley to London for the season. Worried that her mother has basically given up on Mary’s future, Jane writes to Elizabeth to see if something might be done for her.

Unaware that her sisters are making plans, Mary is dealing with the new dynamic of being the only Bennet girl in residence. This gives her a lot more time for self-reflection. Once, she had thought herself cheated of Mr. Collins. She is a pious, serious girl who reads sermons and seeks self-improvement. It would seem they would do for each other, but he never even looked at her. However, Mr. Collins’ has clearly been thinking about his future inheritance, and he keeps coming around Longbourne, uninvited and taking inventory. On closer inspection, she sees how ridiculous he is. She listens to his moralizing, and I think she realizes that she might sound like he does. This is a recurring thing through the book, comparing herself to Collins. She is becoming aware that her attention seeking as far as her singing and playing goes is making her look foolish. She’s also sad that she doesn’t seem to improve, no matter how much she practices. At a party, a young man asks her to dance, but Maria Lucas tells him that no, Mary doesn’t dance, and she can’t, or who would play the piano?

Elizabeth invites Mary to come stay with her at Pemberley, and who should she meet there but the young man who asked her to dance? Mr. Aiken is a gentleman farmer and friend of Darcy’s. He’s nothing like Mary – a bluff, somewhat messy young man, who is very friendly and outgoing. He spends more time with animals and horses than people, and even with people, he talks more about his animals than anything else. He can’t read, he says, without becoming distracted. So it would seem the two of them having nothing in common. Except that he is very kind and treats everyone alike.

During this visit, the Darcy’s are summoned to Lady Catherine’s lair, Rosings. Being her usual horrible, rude self, Lady Catherine angrily decries Darcy daring to bring his wife! And her sister! Mary ends up getting to know Anne, just a little, and stands up to Lady Catherine. Those were some of my favorite parts. When Lizzy did it in the original, it came off as snappy and impertinent, but when Mary does it, she has this air of dignity and self-respect, she does it in such a way that Lady Catherine doesn’t even have a comeback. Of course, Lady Catherine still takes great offense. I mean, how dare anyone not do exactly as she says and wishes. Possibly because of this, Anne begins to find her footing and sends off her companion, a much older woman who ensures she does and says what her mother wants – which is nothing. Everyone decides that Mary should be her companion.

And on goes the plot. Mr. Aiken comes around a little more and there is drama about that. Anne proves to be a brat and needs some of Mary’s moralizing. Mr. Collins is insufferable, and sadly, some of that has rubbed off on his wife. There’s even drama between the Lucas and Bennet families, threatening to sunder the friendship forever. Even Wickham and Lydia come into the mix.

I just thought the plot, the characters, the self-discovery and the romance was really fun. I wish this author had done another continuation, possibly about Kitty. If you are tired of Dary/Elizabeth retellings or continuations, I would recommend you try this.

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