Elizabeth Bennet’s Forgotten Sister
The anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice has Jane Austen fans around the world celebrating Elizabeth, Darcy, and the entire Bennet clan--well, perhaps not the entire clan. Mary Bennet, the bookish and often forgotten middle sister, gets a well-deserved fleshing out in author Pamela Mingle’s sequel to Austen’s works: The Pursuit of Mary Bennet.
Bookish: You were a librarian and a teacher before you were a writer. As a former librarian, what was your favorite book to recommend?
Pamela Mingle: As a reference librarian at Georgia Tech, I’m afraid most of my recommendations involved scientific and technical resources. When we moved to Denver, I became a librarian at an elementary school. At that time, students loved The True Story of The Three Little Pigs and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.
Bookish: As a teacher, what was your favorite subject to teach?
B: Libraries and ebooks are finding a way to coexist, or trying to. Some libraries now lend ebooks; others are sticking true to paperbacks. As a former librarian, how do you feel about the future of libraries and ebooks?
PM: The demand for ebooks is growing, and most public libraries are responding to this demand as best they can. One of the biggest problems they are having is negotiating an equitable price with middlemen and publishers. Overall, the digital revolution in information, and publishing has brought even more patrons to libraries. Physical books, ebooks, and other electronic media are all part of the modern library.
B: Jane Austen is a favorite author to many, but what drew you personally to Pride and Prejudice when you first read it? What draws you back now?
PM: I think on first reading Pride and Prejudice, it was the romance between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy that drew me in. But, in all my re-readings over the years, I’ve come to appreciate so many other aspects of the book: the humor, wit, characterizations, and the themes Austen explores—for example, the role of women in 19th-century England. With every reading, I find something new to ponder or admire. And for me, P&P is a comfort book, just like a comfort food.
B: You focus on Mary—is she the sister you relate the most to or merely the one who sparked inspiration in you?
PM: I relate to Mary in fundamental ways that I think apply to all women. Who hasn’t felt left out? Who hasn’t uttered ridiculous statements they wish they could take back? I can relate to those aspects of Mary, and, like Mary, I’m a bookish middle sister. But Jane Austen didn’t tell us very much about her; ironically, this was part of the appeal of making her the main character of my sequel. The reader doesn’t have a firm idea of who she is, as they do with Elizabeth. I also saw her as a character with the potential to change, which is an important element in character development.
B: I love that they often had chocolate with breakfast. If you could bring one of their customs to your modern life, what would it be?
PM: The dances! I love the elegant quadrilles and the more informal country dances. “Gently bred” people learned the steps from their youth. It was a good opportunity to flirt, talk, people watch. In today’s dances, the partners seem very far removed from each other. Dancing plays a role in most of Jane Austen’s books in developing the relationship between the hero and heroine.
B: What prompted your decision to join the Jane Austen society of North America?
PM: Janeites love nothing better than to talk about their favorite author. I’d always wanted to join, and after I left teaching, I finally had the time. The members of our Denver/Boulder chapter are amazing. The depth of their knowledge of the six novels and of Jane Austen’s life and time is inspiring.
B: Do you have a favorite indie bookstore?
PM: That’s an easy question. My favorite indie bookstore in Denver is the Tattered Cover. They have three stores in the metro area, and their inventory is incredible. Their customer service is matchless; the owner, Joyce Meskis, has been an extraordinary community leader. I’ve been going there for years, and I’m glad to have this opportunity to sing their praise. I had a signing for The Pursuit of Mary Bennet at one of their stores on Dec. 3. They could not have been more welcoming!
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