Jane Austen fan fiction 200 years later

Review by Neesa Moodley

The Other Bennett Sister is a great example of Jane Austen fan fiction.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” This is the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice and stands as one of the most famous first lines in literature. 

Written in 1797 and first published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is widely accepted as a classic tale and often quoted as a favourite book. Women still swoon over the dashing Mr Darcy (forever in the image of the handsome Colin Firth for some of us) while clicking their tongues at the stubbornness of Elizabeth Bennett.

What you may not know is that the copyright on works first published in the United States before January 1, 1923 has expired, and writers may use these works without permission. Which has led to a slew of writing using the characters brought to life to Jane Austen more than 200 years ago. Adoring fans the world over, have recreated the story in their own more modern timelines and in different settings.

More recently, the fan fiction has turned towards exploring the peripheral characters in the book and telling the story from their point of view, while expanding the storyline. A great example is South African author Helen Moffett’s Charlotte, which tells the tale of Charlotte Lucas who, against Elizabeth Bennett’s advice, accepted the proposal of the rather boring Mr Collins.

Written by Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennett Sister goes into the story of Mary Bennett, the middle and plainest Bennett daughter. The book starts with this observation:

“It is a sad fact of life that if a young woman is unlucky enough to come into the world without expectations, she had better do all she can to ensure she is born beautiful. To be poor and handsome is misfortune enough; but to be penniless and plain is a hard fate indeed.”

One can’t help but sympathise with Mary as she gradually realises her role in a family of five, where each sister has already established a niche for themselves: Jane is the beauty, Elizabeth is known for her wit, Lydia is mischievous while Catherine is easily impressionable and follows where Lydia leads. The bookish Mary seems awkward in comparison and her low self-esteem is not helped by the lack of attention from her mother.

The Other Bennett Sister is a veritable tome standing at 95 chapters and some 655 pages…but it was a most delightful read and will not disappoint Austen fans. The writer manages to capture the essence of the different characters perfectly, keeping them in Austen style but also managing to embroider new details, bringing them to life in a new way.

The story had me laughing out loud at the liberties taken by some of the Bennett daughters, sighing with irritation at Mrs Bennett and cheering for the unlikely heroine that is Mary Bennett. Yes, this book will take a little longer to read than your average book – mainly due to its length and definitely not because it is a difficult read. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

If you are an Austen fan and you want to know more about Jane Austen fan fiction, the following five sites might grab your interest:

Interesting facts about Pride and Prejudice

  • Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding was based on Pride and Prejudice.
  • Pride and Prejudice was initially published anonymously because female writers were frowned upon.
  • Over 20 million copies of the book are thought to have been sold worldwide.
  • The original title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions.
  • The first publisher presented with the novel First Impressions rejected it without even reading it. 
  • Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice in nine months when she was just 20 years old.

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