You remember Mary right? Mary? Who?! Nah, of course you don't. Noone remembers Mary, the younger middle, and therefore unmemorable, sister of the Bennet sisters in the classic Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Everyone who remembers P&P knows Elizabeth. And anyone who is a female and read P&P at an impressionable age would have fallen in love with Darcy. I sure did.
But noone remembers Mary. Or, you might, just in the way you'd remember all the sisters enumerating one hand. But she was so indistinct a character that at the end of the day, you don't lose much by forgetting her.
That's the whole point of McCullough's tale. She turns the spotlight sideways, away from the classic love of Jane and Bingley, away from the intense chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy, and suddenly we see Mary in HD.
You don't care really though, do you? I know. But I care. Because, like always, there are so many things about this book that I can relate to, and at the top of the list is the development of Mary Bennet.
As a child, in P&P she was the bookworm, nose stuck in books, acting like a little know-it-all brat, the one noone really liked, but tolerated simply because she was family. Her father detested her, because she wasn't the classic beauty of the two elder sisters, and she wasn't the baby of the family like the younger two sisters.
In The Independence of Mary Bennet, we are taken many many years down the road from when P&P was written. We are given a deep inner look into the actual workings of the marriages of Jane and Bingley, Elizabeth and Darcy - a more realistic look because, unlike the fairytale ambiguity of the love stories in the original P&P, we encounter relationship breakdowns, loves gone stale, and the effects of time upon them all. Which we can relate to because we simply walk in stride with these characters in parallel with our own lives.
Mary was left behind to take care of her miserable mother. Years and years shut up in one house, in a Victorian time when it wasn't seemly to be out and about when a woman was unmarried, and it was a duty to ..do one's duty. A duty that meant she was forgotten and had to take care of a parent who had no love for her, and expected everything back.
Mary is a woman who's spent all those years cooped up trying to educate herself, she read through all the books left in her father's library. A father who spent his money on building this library, his wife's clothes, and none on educating his daughters. So the story begins with the death of her mother, and suddenly she is free.
"But now that I am free, I have no wish to experience any of those things. All that I want is to be of use, to have a purpose. To have something to do that would make a difference."
Fiercely independent, a Miss-know-it-all, prim and proper in the pious way, a flower that has suddenly bloomed beautiful from a wacky looking geek everyone knew her as, yet oblivious of the attentions of enumerable suitors, feisty and equanimous at the same time, then ends up falling in love with her best friend - is it such a surprise that I wouldn't relate?