- She's the only Bennet daughter with no romantic interest or involvement in the book.
- She's openly described by Jane Austen as being rather plain looking (versus Jane, who is quite beautiful.)
- She prefers books over balls.
- She's the third of the Bennet daughters.
- She's pretty much in the background the entire novel, although she often will make pleas for attention.
- Her only moment of being in the spotlight is when she performs at the piano forte & sings at Netherfield, which goes horribly and is embarrassing to herself and the entire family.
So, the question is: what's her deal? And why does Austen look down on Mary so much?
Jane: gorgeous, woe-is-me story of possibly unrequited love, but ultimately lives happily ever after.
Lydia: scandal scandal scandal! Even though she goes about it the totally wrong way, and ends up with the questionable Mr. Wickham, she loves the bad boy and gets what she wants.
Kitty: the other background-type character in the novel, Kitty doesn't do a whole lot in the story other than giggle with Lydia over cute soldiers. But we know she's cute, and considering who Jane & Lizzie marry, the reader can rest assured that things will turn out okay for Kitty.
Lizzie: she bucks tradition, is selfish enough to refuse a marriage that could secure her family's future, is tempestuous and too-smart and under-qualified in ladylike skills (she can't even play the piano forte, for goodness sakes!), but manages to get the coveted Mr. Darcy at the end, not to mention $10,000 a year.
But what about Mary? It's interesting that Austen dumps on Mary so hard, considering she's all about her female characters (male, even) bucking tradition and doing what is right for them
rather than what is proper in society. So what if Mary's piano forte is sub par and she sings off-key?
Look how awkward-yet-lovable she is!
I think what puzzles me most about Austen's relationship with Mary is the whole Mr. Collins deal. (For those who don't remember, or for the blasphemous few that haven't read P&P, Mr. Collins, because Mr. Bennet has no sons, is the heir to the Bennet estate, as it were. Which means if Mr. Bennet bites it, Mr. Collins can either decide to be nice and let the poor womenfolk stay, or kick them all out to the street.)
Obviously it's important for the Bennet family to have a positive relationship with Mr. Collins, not to mention that he comes to Longbourn with the idea of walking away with a Bennet girl on his arm. BUT, as we've all seen in the many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins is weird/ugly/awkward (and not in that America's Next Top Model way, either.)
Needless to say, Lizzie and Jane want nothing to do with him, and poor Charlotte Lucas gets stuck with him.
Here's my issue: Why not hand over Mary? From a writer's perspective, it immediately creates an issue: the tension of the underlying issue of what man will care for the Bennet women is fixed, which means that technically, it doesn't matter if Jane & Lizzie end up with Bingley and Darcy, as the family is secure. And I guess back in the day the potential of unrequited romance wasn't enough of a page-turner? Maybe?But honestly, it's not enough for me, and considering how skilled of a writer Austen was, I don't buy it that she couldn't have kept the tension up even with that subplot resolved. And sure, maybe she liked Charlotte Lucas better because Austen wasn't ever able to marry so she wanted to give a fellow old maid some props, but I'm still rooting for Mary.