“Mrs. Bennet Has Her Say” by Jane Juska
I gravitate to all things inspired by Jane Austen, and I admit to being a bit hesitant to pick up a book that focused on the irritating Mrs. Bennet. Flipping the book around I saw great reviews, so I thought I’d give it the benefit of the doubt.
Lesson learned: Do not trust the reviews on the book cover.
This was a great one-day-read because it’s easy and kind of interesting. I like that the author delves into Mrs. Bennet’s past, trying to set up a more sympathetic character than we meet in “Pride and Prejudice.” That being said, I wouldn’t recommend this book for any Janeite.
Mrs. Bennet is just married to Mr. Bennet, but already pregnant by a Colonel Millar. It comes as no shock to avid Austen-readers that Lydia’s mother would be just as taken with military men. Anyway, through letters to her sister we find out that Jane is in fact Millar’s daughter and Mrs. Bennet is desperate to be near this man again, only marrying Mr. Bennet to not be ruined by her coming due date.
Mr. Bennet is writing a journal to his future son, which is how we get his perspective on the events in Mrs. Bennet’s letters. She portrays her husband as harsh, unfeeling, awkward and sex-crazed. Sure, sex would have been a part of Regency life, but the scenes we get in the whole book are lacking. Pretty much every sexual encounter is based on one character wanting it for selfish reasons, while the other is kind of just a participant.
We see the beginning of the Bennet household strife, a silly wife and a grumpy husband, but her silliness is supposed to be explained away by a love that just won’t quit, especially when Colonel Millar moves in next door (how convenient!). There’s a ball, a trip to Bath, a duel. But as exciting as those things should be, the narrative just bogs it down and makes it seem less exciting and dangerous than it could have been.
Moments I liked
- Mrs. Bennet discusses a witty, unmarried Mrs. A—– in Meryton. Cute nod to the readers.
- There is discussion of the “way of men” to be able to take mistresses or pay for a prostitute, and slight inferences about how unfair it is for women to be held to a different standard when it comes to sex.
- In this book Mrs. Bennet is but 15 when she is married. At one point Mr. Bennet admits that she is not yet a woman. I like the idea of a man realizing that he has married a girl, so maybe he should have different expectations for her, but that’s really just projecting modern thinking on a culture/society that it doesn’t fit into. (Ever heard of the emic/etic perspective?)
Who should read this?
If you aren’t an avid Janeite you may enjoy this. If you want to find sympathy for a very annoying character, you may find it here. If you need a quick Austen-ish read, this is a good way to spend your afternoon.
I didn’t like it. I think it definitely served the author’s purpose to introduce some feminism into a classic story, but it fails to be exciting or capture the satiric nature of Austen’s original story.