By Kathy Whitmore
JASNA – Maine Program Chair
This spring, I decided to select a novel to read from my collection of Jane Austen-related modern novels. I selected Mrs. Bennet Has Her Say by Jane Juska. The format was unusual as it was presented as a combination of journal entries by Mr. Bennet and letters by Mrs. Bennet to her sister, Jane. The novel begins in 1785, the year of the Bennets’ wedding. Their differences are apparent from the beginning in the subject matter of their chapters and in the writing style used. Mrs. Bennet is just fifteen at the time of her marriage and yet is worldly and naïve at once. Mr. Bennet is nineteen or twenty and much less worldly due to introverted and studious nature. There are definitely traits in Mrs. Bennet that are later found in her youngest daughter, Lydia, in Pride and Prejudice.
The author focuses a great deal on sexual relations which was never a focus of Jane’s writing. While way the subject matter was presented seemed accurate historically, it did not make it any more comfortable for me to read. Pride and Prejudice is my very favorite novel so I tend to gravitate toward anything that is related to it. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have always been hilarious yet ridiculous to me. Here they were presented in a very coarse way as being sex-obsessed and focused on conceiving a son. Mr. Bennet realized his obligation to father a male heir in order to protect the family line and property. He did not seem to have any true love or affection for Mrs. Bennet though and was despairing when Mrs. Bennet did not give birth to sons. He also made some horrible choices in order to satisfy the desire that was not met by his wife. Mrs. Bennet imagines herself to still be an unmarried young lady when she traveled to Bath. She became focused on winning back her first love, Colonel Millar while there.
Overall, I enjoyed reading about the adventures of some of my favorite characters, but was disappointed by the content of the novel. There were comic times, but also seemed to be pathetic at the same time. I missed the wit and comedic touches that made Pride and Prejudice sparkle. In trying to attract a modern audience, the author just made this true Janeite angry, sad, and sickened by the content. I would be interested to hear other Janeites’ thoughts on it.
I have a BA in Liberal Arts English from UMaine at Farmington. I joined JASNA – Maine in December of 1993 as I am a huge fan of Jane and wanted to meet other Janeites. I have helped with hospitality, served as librarian and am currently program chair. My vocation is as a Customer Service Representative for three different industries over the past 28 years. I live in South Portland and currently work at Maine Water in Saco. I love reading, cross-stitching, writing, singing in the choir, baking, cooking and playing trivia games.