on July 7, 2014
I must admit I find Mary Bennet the least interesting Bennet sister and (even possibly) character in all of Jane Austen’s fiction. Boring, pedantic, and virtually invisible, she is a backdrop to any action in the story. And I have always believed that she should have been the one to marry the insipid Mr. Collins; as a matter of fact, in the opening scene, we find her reading Fordyce’s Sermons, a book that Mr. Collins read aloud for the Bennets during his momentous visit to Longbourn.
Nevertheless, this sweet and light romance is really more of a Christian/inspirational romance than an historical one. I’d say the only historical aspects are that it is based on Pride and Prejudice (which was first published in 1813), white soup is consumed at dinner, and it painstakingly observes the proprieties and societal strictures that Mary Bennet always observed and favored.
The Christian/inspiration religious overtones are sometimes distracting and, at times, I felt that there were almost three people in the relationship: Mary, Nathaniel, and “the Maker.” I find it intrusive but, later, I felt perhaps, apt, given Mary’s (and Nathaniel’s) strong religious devotion; it is fortunate they find each other.
Mary is the last unwed Bennet daughter. She’s also an introvert and prays and thinks a lot. She expects to remain with her parents and remain the spinster aunt. Ignored by her parents and sisters, she has always withdrawn into herself but, ever since her sisters’ marriages, her invitations to visit have opened up a wider social world, one she finds she likes. Part of this involves listening with rapt attention to Mr. Bingley’s cousin Nathaniel’s fascinating letters from the Indies and his botanical research. His passion mirrors her own for her books and her music while opening her mind to a different world. She also finds, to her surprise, that she is tiring of those very tight strictures she feels compelled to live by.
Everyone is gathered at Pemberley for the christening of Darcy and Elizabeth’s son, Edward. There Mary meets Nathaniel Bingley, who sees her beauty, both inside and out.
“Like a delicate flower deep in the forest, her true beauty could be best seen when in full bloom, only found by the the ardent searcher.” (p16)
Mary hadn’t planned to ever marry but finds she has changed her mind and dares to hope.
“Mary had often wondered if the security of the institution was worth the risk inherent in its confines.” (p31)
There are lovely descriptions in this story of the interiors and lovely landscapes of Pemberley.
“The drawing room door opened. No more were there scents of port and cigar, no more the deep tones of mahogany and forest green. Here was the delicate aroma of tea, roses, lavender, and the pale colors to match, from mauves and blue, to pale yellows and pinks of the ladies’ dresses and the furnishings. (p15)
Mary realizes that both Nathaniel and Georgiana (both fellow introverts), understand her. They are kindred spirits and, to Nathaniel, her “heart-friend.” (p29)
“What a pleasure to have found someone who understood that silence would be a form of communication just as words were.” (p20)
The play on the word “bloom” in the title troubles me somewhat. Though a common expression in Austen’s time, a woman’s bloom is her most valuable asset, next to her grace and ladylike qualities and accomplishments. That Nathaniel is a botanist makes the title’s connection a bit too twee.
Nathaniel is a rather serious and depressed hero, much like Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, the heroes from Sense and Sensibility. He’s shy and reserved and battles daily with the grief he still feels from his parents’ deaths. There is also mention of his feeling claustrophobic in crowds and his panic-attack-like symptoms resemble those of the hero in Tessa Dare’s One Dance with a Duke, but this is not fully explored. He also has “nothing to offer. No home, no steady income, no position in society.” (p40)
“But the secrets of plants were simpler to discern than those of people.” (p25)
He becomes friendly with Mr. Bennet, who finds his research and drawings fascinating. Nathaniel finds Mr. Bennet is as melancholy as himself but Mr. Bennet has a wife who inspires it. And dear Mrs. Bennet is still humorously lacking in the refinements as ever.
“The others were inside tending to the babies, or, in Mama’s case, her nerves.” (p37)
There is a lovely analogy toward the end of a rainstorm and childhood tears that makes Nathaniel realize he only fears what he doesn’t understand. As a child, once he understood rainstorms, he no longer feared them. So when he understands his love for Mary, he becomes unafraid. This revelation reminded me of that wonderful moment at the end of the film, When Harry Met Sally, when Harry realizes he cannot wait to start the rest of his life with Sally and he wants it to begin right now.
“Then he would wait no more. The heart, when full, beat faster, impatient to share its bounty.” (p53)
The ending is a bit too tidy when secondary characters in the novel make it possible for him to marry. Though the description of former rake Sir Camden is quite delicious:
“He was a handsome man, if one liked Adonises…” (p54)
This is the third book in Reina M. Williams’ Love at Pemberley, a spin-off series of sweet novellas based on Jane Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice. There is a zen-like tone to the novella, like the first two in the series, and is a very well-written and pleasing love story.
Note: A modified version of this review first appeared on the Romantic Historical Reviews blog.