Jane Austen Week: Mary Bennet

This week, I am going to explore some of Jane Austen’s secondary characters, one from each novel. Today, I am focusing on Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

Oh, Mary. Out of all of Jane Austen’s characters, you were meant to be born into a different era. There are plenty of women today who would prefer to stay home and read rather than go to a party. You are a classic introvert. You’d totally find a small group of friends who understands you instead of being forced to stay home all of the time, playing the piano for people who don’t appreciate it and making extracts from the books you read. I think that, today, Mary Bennet would be a PhD student, very book smart and focused on her research topic, but ultimately not very people smart or social.

Mary Bennet tends to be the forgotten Bennet sister. While the others are out dancing and flirting with men, Mary is dedicated to learning things. Out of all Jane Austen’s characters, isn’t Mary Bennet the most modern in that way? She seems to care more about what she knows than how many partners she can acquire at the latest ball. She is the extreme opposite of Lydia and Kitty; she is serious and bookish, but she has forgotten how to have fun and relate to other people. The very modernity of her character has made her interesting to novelists writing sequels, with varying degrees of success.

Jane Austen later said that Mary Bennet would have married one of her uncle’s clerks and lived out the remainder of her days in Meryton. There she could no doubt rule, prim and proper, intelligent and willing to play music, but not to dance. Mary could have been something quite spectacular if she had been truly gifted, if she had been allowed to give voice to all that she discovered in her books. I am torn about Mary. On one hand, I sympathize with her, destined to be in the shadow of her prettier and livelier sisters. On the other hand, she does not possess the natural talent to shine in London or on a larger stage. She is no Jane Fairfax. Meryton is just about right for her.

With a preternatural sense of character, Jane Austen always creates satisfying endings for her characters, even the minor ones whom no one seems to notice much.