My novel Pride and Prometheus takes place thirteen years after the end of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and focuses on Mary Bennet, the middle of the five Bennet sisters, along with her younger sister Kitty. In the course of imagining what might have happened after Lizzy and Darcy's happy ending, and in extending the Bennet family's story into my own (where Mary meets and falls for Victor Frankenstein, traveling through England on his way to Scotland to create, unbeknownst to her, a bride for his monster), I studied the Bennets carefully. Some of the things I discovered are there in Austen's novel, and some of them are things that are revealed through the events of my own story.

John Kessel by John Pagliuca

John Kessel by John Pagliuca

Mary Bennet is the joke sister. Austen's nineteen-year-old Mary thinks she is a great pianist and singer, but her exaggerated sense of her talents embarrasses everybody. She copies edifying passages out of books that she pompously quotes to her sisters and parents. Nobody listens. Mary doesn't notice. She thinks creepy Mr. Collins is a proper gentleman. My Mary, thirty-two years old and on the verge of spinsterhood, has matured a great deal since she was nineteen, but still no one takes her seriously.

Kitty Bennet gets even less attention than Mary. She's invisible as anything other than her younger sister Lydia's partner-in-crime as they flirt with young men in the regiment about to go off to fight Napoleon. Her one notable trait is that she coughs at inappropriate times, annoying her mother. Still, at the end of Pride and Prejudice Austen gives her the chance to improve under the tutelage of Lizzy and Darcy.

For the Bennet girls, it's tough to get old. My Mary ultimately makes her peace with the idea that she may never find a husband, but Kitty does not. On the verge of turning thirty, she is desperate.

Mrs. Bennet is not an idiot. Her panic about marrying her daughters off to wealthy men is justified, since the entire Bennet estate—their home, its lands, and the income from them—will go to Mr. Collins as the closest male heir when Mr. Bennet dies, leaving Mrs. Bennet and her daughters penniless. From this point of view, Mr. Bennet's sardonic detachment about the matter shows a lack of regard for his family's future. No wonder Mrs. Bennet is always nagging him about it.

Why are Mr. and Mrs. Bennet together? Given the huge difference in intellect and temperament between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, it seems ridiculous that they should ever have married. I figured out why: at the age of seventeen Mrs. Bennet must have been gorgeous, and Mr. Bennet let his libido get the better of his common sense. The young Mrs. Bennet might have recognized his mockery of her, but it was likely more gentle then, and anyway he was a man of property. I expect the sex had something to do with it for her, too. All of Austen's plots skim along over a bubbling cauldron of sexual desire, repressed and sublimated and properly hidden from public view.  

God sees everything. Mary's moralism suggests her strong belief in God, and in the interim since Pride and Prejudice my Mary has developed an interest in natural philosophy (what we would call "science") because she sees the physical world as an expression of mind of God. She collects fossils!

Lizzy escaped. Once married to Darcy, Elizabeth spends all her time at Pemberley, his estate, a refuge from her mother and ditsy sisters. Darcy and Lizzy take an interest in training Kitty to be "less irritable, less ignorant, and less insipid," but neither gives a thought for Mary. Lizzy is happy to let Mary, as the only sister remaining at home, become the focus of Mrs. Bennet's attentions, assuming Mary will like it.  Mary did for a while, but by the time my novel starts, it has worn her down.

It's funny except when it's not. As you can see from all this, some things about the Bennet family are funny—and some are most definitely not.

Lydia and Wickham have a stormy marriage. They like to fight and they like to—hold hands.

The Bennets do not believe in monsters. Or if they do, the monsters they believe in are not stitched together from corpses and reanimated by electricity.