The Forgotten Sister by Jennifer Paynter

The Forgotten Sister is a well-written view of Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of Mary – the middle of the Bennett sisters. Through most of the Jane Austen title, Mary was pretty much a tool of embarrassment for Elizabeth, her sister. Here, the author attempts to flesh her out and give a new perspective on the bumbling scenes and endless sermonizing of the ‘bluestocking’ Bennett. Oddly, though, in a book clearly intended for Austenites, we’re given a very dim view of both Elizabeth and Jane. And Mary, despite getting her own book, never really evolves into a sympathetic or even interesting character. I found I liked her no less or more after reading The Forgotten Sister. Sadly, I liked Elizabeth and Jane less as well.


Story: Mary is the ‘lost’ middle child of the Bennett family. Jane and Elizabeth have each other and their father’s affection; Lydia and Kitty have each other and the attention of their mother. Mary, however, is shuttled off to different homes and influenced by the people she meets. Born without her older sisters’ wit and beauty or younger sisters’ vivacity, she is more an object of pity than familial love. Her father’s patronizing communication and mother’s abandonment especially grate; but Mary has music and she has scriptures. They are her weapon and her refuge as she watches life unfold around her family. Especially: Lizzy and Jane and their affairs with different men, scandals, and plotting before Bingley and Darcy enter the picture and Lydia and Kitty with their meanness. Armed with prayers and the Bible, will she remember the Lord’s words as it relates to fellow man when she falls in love with a poor musician?

The story is rather long – starting with Mary’s unfortunate birth. Honestly, although childhood situations set up later loves and heartaches, it did feel like the story took forever to actually get started.  I wish it had been written in such a way as to start at the same time as P&P – there’s just so much in there that felt like dead weight. The beginning only serves the purpose of setting up the third act; it doesn’t really intrigue or entice the reader into Mary’s story.

As well, I didn’t like Mary. She was fairly wishy washy throughout – influenced by whomever was next to her at the time. Her little rebellions against her family were more impulses than an intelligent attempt to make a stand. Her observations on her sisters weren’t charitable either – as far as she was concerned, she could have disappeared forever and no one had cared. It made Jane seem an idiot, Elizabeth a schemer (especially after a scandal involving Italians and an older nobleman to whom she is found kissing in secret), and father Bennett clearly biased toward only two daughters and disposed to forget the others.  This may be realistic but it’s not why I read Austen or why I would want to read about Mary Bennett.  The heart and warmth of P&P was not only missing, but it was also ruthlessly stomped upon in The Forgotten Sister.  You won’t want to read this if you love Elizabeth or Jane’s characters; they are ruthlessly skewered here.

I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a decent job, though she did somehow make Mary sound even more bland. But she did tone down the hysterics of the mother and Lydia/Kitty combo. For once, there was no screeching.

So yes, an interesting take on Mary Bennett and not poorly written. But also lacking warmth and real heart. It’s a story from a different perspective that perhaps didn’t need to be told.

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