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Jane Says: Mary Bennet

It’s fascinating how many different works of Pride and Prejudice fan fiction have been created, from movies to books to musicals. Because of the massive amount of artistic license taken in fan fiction, it’s easy to lose sight of what Jane Austen actually said about each character in the book.

What did Jane Austen really say about Mary Bennet? First, take the quiz to out how well you know Mary. Then, read the following post to see what Jane Austen said about her.

(All quotations for this series will be taken from the Pride and Prejudice hypertext at Pemberley.com, which is a wonderful resource for all Janeites.)

Jane Says

[Elizabeth Bennet’s] performance was pleasing, though by no means capital. After a song or two, and before she could reply to the entreaties of several that she would sing again, she was eagerly succeeded at the instrument by her sister Mary, who having, in consequence of being the only plain one in the family, worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments, was always impatient for display.

Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached. Elizabeth, easy and unaffected, had been listened to with much more pleasure, though not playing half so well; and Mary, at the end of a long concerto, was glad to purchase praise and gratitude by Scotch and Irish airs, at the request of her younger sisters, who, with some of the Lucases and two or three officers, joined eagerly in dancing at one end of the room (P&P, vol. 1, ch. 6)….

At length however Mrs. Bennet had no more to say; and Lady Lucas, who had been long yawning at the repetition of delights which she saw no likelihood of sharing, was left to the comforts of cold ham and chicken. Elizabeth now began to revive. But not long was the interval of tranquillity; for when supper was over, singing was talked of, and she had the mortification of seeing Mary, after very little entreaty, preparing to oblige the company. By many significant looks and silent entreaties, did she endeavour to prevent such a proof of complaisance,—but in vain; Mary would not understand them; such an opportunity of exhibiting was delightful to her, and she began her song. Elizabeth’s eyes were fixed on her with most painful sensations; and she watched her progress through the several stanzas with an impatience which was very ill rewarded at their close; for Mary, on receiving amongst the thanks of the table, the hint of a hope that she might be prevailed on to favour them again, after the pause of half a minute began another. Mary’s powers were by no means fitted for such a display; her voice was weak, and her manner affected.—Elizabeth was in agonies. She looked at Jane, to see how she bore it; but Jane was very composedly talking to Bingley. She looked at his two sisters, and saw them making signs of derision at each other, and at Darcy, who continued however impenetrably grave. She looked at her father to entreat his interference, lest Mary should be singing all night. He took the hint, and when Mary had finished her second song, said aloud,

“That will do extremely well, child. You have delighted us long enough. Let the other young ladies have time to exhibit.”

Mary, though pretending not to hear, was somewhat disconcerted; and Elizabeth sorry for her, and sorry for her father’s speech, was afraid her anxiety had done no good.—Others of the party were now applied to (P&P, vol. 1, ch. 18).

  • Mary was plain.
  • She was pedantic and conceited.
  • She worked hard for knowledge.
  • Her affected manners ruined a pianoforte performance that was otherwise technically more proficient than Elizabeth’s.
  • Mary was not a good singer.

With proper civilities the ladies then withdrew; all of them equally surprised to find that he meditated a quick return. Mrs. Bennet wished to understand by it that he [Mr. Collins] thought of paying his addresses to one of her younger girls, and Mary might have been prevailed on to accept him. She rated his abilities much higher than any of the others; there was a solidity in his reflections which often struck her, and though by no means so clever as herself, she thought that if encouraged to read and improve himself by such an example as her’s, he might become a very agreeable companion. But on the following morning, every hope of this kind was done away. Miss Lucas called soon after breakfast, and in a private conference with Elizabeth related the event of the day before. (P&P, vol. 1, ch. 22)

  • Mary did not love Mr. Collins. She thought he might one day become agreeable and would have married him, if asked.

A selection of moralization from Mary herself:

On walking: “I admire the activity of your benevolence,” observed Mary, “but every impulse of feeling should be guided by reason; and, in my opinion, exertion should always be in proportion to what is required.”  (P&P, vol. 1, ch. 6)

On balls: “While I can have my mornings to myself,” said she, “it is enough.–I think it no sacrifice to join occasionally in evening engagements. Society has claims on us all; and I profess myself one of those who consider intervals of recreation and amusement as desirable for every body.” (P&P, vol. 1, ch. 17)

On the pleasures of Meryton: “Far be it from me, my dear sister, to depreciate such pleasures. They would doubtless be congenial with the generality of female minds. But I confess they would have no charms for me. I should infinitely prefer a book.(P&P, vol. 2, ch. 39)

On Lydia’s unfortunate situation:

“This is a most unfortunate affair; and will probably be much talked of. But we must stem the tide of malice, and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.”

Then, perceiving in Elizabeth no inclination of replying, she added, “Unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we may draw from it this useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable — that one false step involves her in endless ruin — that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful, — and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.”

Elizabeth lifted up her eyes in amazement, but was too much oppressed to make any reply. Mary, however, continued to console herself with such kind of moral extractions from the evil before them. (P&P, vol. 3, ch. 47)

 

Coming Soon! Mary Bennet: A Novella
Mary Bennet: A Novella

Want more? Read the continuing story of Mary Bennet.

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