25 Days of Pride & Prejudice, Day 17: In Defense of Mary Bennet

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I like to champion the underdogs, the villains, and the sordid and varied background characters that make a movie so great.

A lot of you have been hoping to see a blog about Mary Bennet, and I think it’s high time that we discuss this often-overlooked and under-valued Bennet sister.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the plot hinges on Mary Bennet, but she serves a very important purpose.

Not only is she the antithesis to her younger sisters, she is a balance to her older sisters as well. Where Kitty and Lydia are Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Mary is studious and clearly interested in becoming more accomplished at piano and other skills. Where Jane and Lizzy are beautiful and talented, Mary is… just normal, and that’s really nice to see on-screen.

This is not to say that Talulah Riley isn’t gorgeous, because she is. If you didn’t know, Riley also plays the famous “Blonde” in Inception, the one that turns heads and distracts everyone at the bar.

(She’s also in one of my favorite movies of all time, Pirate Radio, which if you haven’t seen, stop everything and get on it.)

Anyway, Riley is gorgeous, but Mary is… not. She’s smart, she has more than a few witty remarks (“What are men compared to rocks and mountains?”) she has the good sense to prefer conversation over balls, and more than any other adaption, this movie advances the favorite fan theory that Mary would have made not only a great partner for Mr. Collins, but a more than willing one.

Mary would have loved Rosings, Lady Catherine DeBourgh would have been a bit shocked by Mary pronouncing her opinions so firmly for one her age (something she shares with her sister) but I think Mary would have been the best sister suited to Mr. Collins and honestly, I’m a bit mad that Mrs. Bennet tried to shove him off on Lizzy instead.

We asked this question on Twitter a few months ago and someone had the theory that Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte instead as a slight to the Bennet family, for Lizzy’s refusal. Which I suppose makes sense, but didn’t he come to Longbourn in the first place to make amends with Mr. Bennet after a long absence?

Mary is shunted to the side for all of her sisters to shine more brightly. She is often the most mockable Bennet sister, (though Lydia is a very close second) when really, her worst crime is being a bit of a show-off when her talent doesn’t warrant it, or popping off with a stray, awkward comment while in company. Who among us hasn’t done either of those thing, especially at 18?

If Lydia is the sister most like Mrs. Bennet, I think Mary is the sister most like Mr. Bennet.

She just happens to retreat to her piano, instead of the study, like her father. I never understood why Lizzy was his favorite when Mary is so obviously closest to his character. That’s why I love so much the scene where he comforts Mary at the ball. He was trying to save her some embarrassment, but instead of letting her learn the lesson for herself, he just made it worse. In that moment, he’s just a daddy comforting his little girl.

I feel bad for Mary, she deserves such a happier ending than she gets, and she deserves her own Mr. Darcy.

Also, after 16 days, Mary is pretty much the only character I still like. She’s blessedly not annoying in this adaption, though I do have some questions about why she’s in random scenes that seemingly have nothing to do with her. (“Mr. Collins even owns my piano stool!”)

And this little lisp is still one of my favorite lines in the movie:

How about you? What do you think of Mary Bennet? Is she priggish and deserves what she gets, or is she an antihero or deserves a happy ending?

Sound off in the comments either here or on any of our pages!

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20 thoughts on “25 Days of Pride & Prejudice, Day 17: In Defense of Mary Bennet

  1. It was (for me at least) this version and Talulah Riley’s performance that made Mary a truly sympathetic character and it is easily my favourite aspect of this adaptation.

    Incidentally I love that my first experience of Talulah Riley was in Doctor Who when she played “pretty but stupid” Miss Evangelista and the 2nd performance of her’s I saw was “plain but clever” Mary.


  2. Mary Bennet is Austen’s commentary on the women who are too into Fordyce’s sermons and everything that is proper. She is too much, and is supposed to be amusing to us. We have the whole balance between Lydia down to Mary and everything in between. Austen has the ladies in the middle in mind to be the most successful. I wouldn’t call her an anti-hero, although I agree that she would have been most successful with Collins.


  3. Mary Bennet is my favourite character from P&P (forget about Elizabeth/Darcy) and while a Collins/Mary marriage would be great for Collins, it would be awful for the development of Mary, deserves to be loved my a good, outgoing gentleman – so my favourite stories are Mary and the Colonel. Really can’t read the Mary/Collins ones.


  4. Yes, Mary deserves her own happy ending. She’s got a lot of guys for always playing piano in front of everyone and anyone. Good for her!


  5. I like your defense of Mary! She’s awfully literal-minded and takes herself too seriously, but as you said . . . 18. If you want to see her blossom, try reading Beth Deitchman’s Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven (worth it for the title alone). In my modern retelling I made her an evangelical, which makes some sense, but perhaps she’s destined to be a copy editor. She’d be happy there.


    1. Speaking as a copyeditor, I think she’d have all the grammar rules memorized and wield them like a cudgel but wouldn’t have the insight and talent to use and break those rules to make copy shine. A great copyeditor isn’t a pedant.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love Mary. I love that you have an article about her:) I wish she was not always overlooked. One my first Jane Austen soaps was devoted to her.


  7. You know Mary is indeed sharp mouth, although that title is mostly reserved for Elizabeth. She is more reserved and seemed more sympathetic. I like her in the movie and I like that fact the she likes reading in the book. The first time I saw the scene where Mr. Bennet hugged her after the piano incidence, I went “awwww, so sweet.”


  8. I am not a fan of this movie in general (I’m old enough that the 1995 adaptation is my one and only), but the one thing I really appreciate is the sensitive portrayal of Mary. In other adaptations she just comes off as cartoonish and one dimensional. And that scene where her father comforts her at the ball is fantastic- you captured it perfectly.


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