From The Guardian:
Great marketing sense or mawkish sensibility? Take your pick: Orion has just announced a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, to be published next summer to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Perception by Terri Fleming will be set a few years after the events set forth in the original novel and follows Mary and Kitty, the two sisters left unmarried by Austen. That book will be followed, in 2018, by The Other Bennet Girl by Janice Hadlow, which similarly promises to show a hidden side to Mary.
Austen re-imaginings are nothing new: in the last couple of years alone we’ve had Jo Baker’s Longbourn and the execrable Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not to mention Bridget Jones’s Diary and Death Comes to Pemberley. Now it seems There’s Something About Mary, to cite another spinoff by Sebastian Di Mattia. How many books are there already out there about Mary Bennet? I must admit I stopped counting. The Forgotten Sister, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, Becoming Mary, Mary Bennet’s Chance, The Pursuit of Mary Bennet (subtitled “A Pride and Prejudice Novel”, which slightly wrongfooted me: isn’t Pride and Prejudice already a novel, not a franchise?) … Mary Bennett and the Bloomsbury Coven promises much excitement but anyone expecting a time-travelling sorcery mashup with Virginia Woolf and company will be disappointed.
To recap, in case you now know more about the Mary Bennet industry than the character herself, Mary is the plain, bookish, subdued sister to Elizabeth, Jane, Lydia and Kitty. Here’s Austen pulling no punches on her pianoforte skills:
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.
Austen does not even grant her the intelligence or ambition that redeems the novel’s other unprepossessing spinster, Charlotte Lucas. Mary’s high (or low, depending on your point of view) moment comes at the Netherfield ball, when she takes centre stage and embarrasses the family by playing and singing appallingly badly. Mary is, then, very much the “forgotten” sister, while everyone else goes off and gets married.
. . . .
But this interest in fleshing out the stories of minor characters – thinking about “what happens next” as though they are real people unfairly sidelined – raises an interesting point about the processes of characterisation. How do novels make us accept the differences between major and minor characters? How do authors make their heroes and heroines complex and credible while relying on a cast of supporting characters who lack interiority? It’s an asymmetry on which the realist novel, in particular, relies – what Alex Woloch calls the conundrum of “The One v the Many”.
The singularity of Elizabeth Bennett, after all – the reason she so often features in lists of our favourite literary characters – relies solely upon the relief cast by her dull sisters. Lizzie only has space in the book for a remarkable interior life because her sisters do not. Even beautiful Jane is a bit insipid – a fact Austen knowingly plays with, as her eventual engagement to Bingley is briefly threatened by Jane’s reticence.
Link to the rest at The Guardian