Friday, March 5, 2010

Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley by Fenella J Miller

I was very excited to find Miss Bennet & Mr Bingley, happily paying the $25 Amazon charges for this UK published book. After all, a story about Jane and Charles' romance, especially one sporting cover art by Jane Odiwe, holds a lot of promise. I'm sorry to say I was disappointed. It was a pleasant read, but I didn't feel like Jane and Charles were developed by Fenella J. Miller any more fully than Austen had left them, which is what I was wanting. Especially towards the end, it still felt like Elizabeth and Darcy's story, only with Jane and Charles acting as narrators. Still, it is a sweet book. It's my expectations which did it disservice.

The book begins when Darcy arrives at Netherfield and continues into the first few months of marriage. The most interesting part, from my perspective, was the time which Jane spends in London, where she becomes reacquainted with the gentleman who once wrote her some "very pretty" verses. It is during this period that we really get a sense of what Jane might have been feeling in response to Bingley's seeming defection and the extent of that gentleman's heartbreak. We also have a highly amusing interlude involving a duel. But upon the return to Longbourn, I found myself growing bored.

For the most part, the book sticks to the details of Pride and Prejudice, though Ms. Miller, like others before her, seems to have felt the need to endow Jane with musical skills that Austen explicitly states she does not possess. Other than that, I recall no glaring diversions from the original text. I feel like with just a bit more tweaking and further character development this book could have been great. I really wanted it to be.

For those who can never get enough Pride and Prejudice, I highly recommend this book. For me, I prefer fan fiction to provide new discourse and perspective on the original tale, and in that sense Miss Bennet & Mr. Bingley fell short. Nevertheless, there is always joy to be found in any romp through Austenland. If I hadn't paid so much for the text, I would be more satisfied.

I was previously unfamiliar with Ms. Miller but have learned that she is the author of several regency romances. If anyone has read any of these books, I would love to know your thoughts. Thanks.


  1. Alexa,
    I agree, the cover price for this book in America is far too high - it's only $16 in the UK. However I'm delighted that you invested your money but sorry you were disappointed with your purchase.
    Although, as you pointed out, I've written twenty straight regencies, this was a book I wanted to write. I grew up with Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and their stories remain dear to me.
    I'm glad you enjoyed the extra scenes - in hindsight I can see it might have been better to include more of these and less of the original plot.
    Thank you for your review.
    Fenella Miller

  2. Thank you for commenting Fenella! I hope I wasn't too harsh - I tried to make it clear that I did enjoy the book, but my expectations were too high. A book from Jane Bennet's perspective is an excellent idea and I guess I just wanted more. It felt to me much like Amanda Grange's Diaries: sweet, but a bit repetitive for those of us who have read these books hundreds of times. I didn't want to be too specific in the review, in order to avoid spoilers, but if you would like more feedback I would be happy to provide it if you will email me at Also, do you have any plans to find a US distributor?

  3. Am curious - was there horseback riding? Seeing as that's one of the funny things about fanon (fandom canon), because Jane rides to Netherfield and Elizabeth walks (because she "is no horsewoman"), many fans believe Jane is an expert rider while Elizabeth falls off horses. I am interested in the musical thing - can you find the bit where it says Jane doesn't play - not that I don't believe you, but as I love Jane, I love to be accurate in my knowledge of her.

    I always did wonder what Jane's accomplishment was, seeing as Lizzy and Mary both played, and Kitty and Lydia are young enough to perhaps not be expected to have one (?), but Jane, as oldest and possibly most dutiful daughter is kind of an oddity in having no skill to publically display. Though given Mrs. Bennet's predilictions, perhaps her physical perfection was enough to trot out when the mother felt like her ego needed a boost.

    Jane herself, I've always felt, tried to be a mother figure for her younger sisters, though by the time Pride and Prejudice occurs, she's become emotionally bruised by both her mother's incessant harping on her beauty as the only thing worthy about her, and her younger three sisters' constant rebuffs that she's retreated to only connecting seriously with Lizzy.

    But, er, that's part of my own interpretation of Jane. People have to remind me that she's not, after all, the main character.

  4. WOW! I didn't even know this book existed! Jane truly does deserve her own story. So many sequels focus on Kitty, and even Mary and Lydia have a book or two about them. I love that Jane's admirer from some years back makes an appearance.

  5. HI Meredith. Doesn't she? I was so excited about this book because of the focus on Jane. If you have the cash to spare, this is one you should read. Or, alternatively, if you promise to mail it back I will lend it to you. Let me know.

  6. Hi ibmiller - I am not at home and do not have the time to give a proper response at the moment, but please check back and I will do so as soon as I am able. Thanks for the comment!

  7. O.K. ibmiller - in regards to your earlier comment, volume 2 chapter 6, in which we first meet Lady Catherine, she asks Elizabeth:

    "Do your sisters play and sing?"

    "One of them does."

    "Why did not you all learn? -- You ought all to have learned. The Miss Webbs all play, and their father has not so good an income as your's. -- Do you draw?"

    "No, not at all."

    "What, none of you?"

    "Not one."

    So Mary is the only other musician in the family, and none of the other Bennet girls have any displayable accomplishments. I always supposed this was due to one of Elizabeth's other comments that night, "Such of us as wished to learn, never wanted the means." Because of Jane's compliant nature, and her status as the oldest of the family, it is likely that she was employed in helping to care for her sisters, leaving her little time to concentrate on her own development.

    I'm not sure that all Mrs. Bennet values in Jane is her appearance, although that is certainly her focus. She says when she visits Netherfield, "I am sure if it was not for such good friends I do not know what would become of her, for she is very ill indeed, and suffers a vast deal, though with the greatest patience in the world -- which is always the way with her, for she has, without exception, the sweetest temper I ever met with." Very likely she is only trying to make Jane seem a desirable wife for Mr. Bingley's sake, but it is hard to imagine that even Mrs. Bennet cannot be aware of Jane's sweet nature. If nothing else, it's a convenience to her.

    There is indeed horseback riding in the book and, if I remember correctly, Jane enjoys the benefits of a superior mount than her accustomed Nellie. However, it is not a prominent feature of the book.

  8. Oooh, I completely forgot about that bit. Clearly it's been too long since I read the book! Thanks so much!

    While I think Mrs. Bennet is aware of Jane's sweet nature, I think you've hit the nail on the head with "only trying to make Jane seem a desireable wife" - Mrs. Bennet only cares about Jane's character and looks in so far as they benefit Mrs. Bennet. One of the reasons I really, really hate Mrs. Bennet is the way she only views her daughters and other people as ways to make herself feel better about herself - never as ways to serve them for their own sakes.

    And I think that the idea that Jane's surrogate mother status leaving her little time to become accomplished herself is a very good one - I shall have to incorporate it into my "behind the scenes" picture of the Bennet family.

  9. You know, I think you're being rather hard on Mrs. Bennet. Yes, she's silly and misguided, but I always thought her heart was in the right place. After all, she isn't just marrying her daughters off for the bragging rights - it's a matter of survival. She goes about it in a very misguided way, but then, of course, Mr. Bennet does absolutely nothing to either assist or restrain her. Personally, I'm rather fond of both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet but then again, there are very few characters within Austen I can't muster some semblance of sympathy towards.

  10. Thank you for the offer Alexa! I need to slim down my TBR pile before I acquire any more books though. I appreciate your kind offer, but I most likely will buy the book myself as I love to add to collect and reread them.

  11. Meredith - I completely understand, being a collector of books myself. And yes, those TBR piles are enormous and growing! Enjoy it when you get to it.

  12. You're not the first to note my rather stringent view of Mrs. Bennet. But then, I am a reader who thinks Alison Steadman's take on the character to be completely justified. I find Mrs. Bennet a horrifying monster of selfishness, rudeness, and lack of wit. I don't think her heart's in the right place - she recognizes a social duty (get daughter's married off) - but why? Because the only way for her to be taken care of post-Mr. Bennet is a rich son-in-law.

    Not to mention that she's not just misguided, she's actively cruel (to Charlotte Lucas, to Lizzy) and has very bad manners (which are more than just mores in Austen, I think - they are usually indicative of moral standing - as are speech patterns).

    But then again, I tend to completely agree with Lizzy - there are few people in the world I really love. Even in Austen's world. But I'm working on that. I just don't think that I should call a spade something it's not (in this case, see Mrs. Bennet's motives for other than what I think they are - in my ever so arrogant opinion, of course). :-)

  13. Hi ibmiller - I think you're missing something in your Austen morality equation. Yes, language and manners often designates the inferiority of one of her characters, but, placing her work into its historical context, I think it often has more to do with breeding than morality. Of course, in Austen, good breeding (not by lineage, but how you were raised) usually equates strong morality. Her underbred characters don't know how to behave better and Mrs. Bennet falls into this category. Those who should know better are sinister (Captain Tilney, Wickham, Mr. Elliot) but those who are mentally inferior, while causing lots of pain, often prove to have good hearts. The best example of this phenomenon I can think of is Mrs. Jennings.

    I think Alison Steadman's Mrs. Bennet was dead on, but I still think the performance indicates good intentions beneath misguided (and yes, often cruel) intentions. You have read far more extensively than I have about Austen film adaptations. Did Steadman say something somewhere that indicates this interpretation?

    I am tempted to do something you will probably resent, as I would have, but, nevertheless, I think it's relevant to this conversation (I'm not just playing the age card, I promise). I have a feeling that, say, five years from now, you will be able to muster a lot more sympathy for characters like Mrs. Bennet. The longer we live, the more experience we have, the easier empathy comes. Though there are still very few people in the world I really love (which had always been true), I can relate to almost anyone far better than I could ten years ago. Then I dismissed the rest. Now, while they still anger me and cause me considerable pain, I better understand what compels thoughtless, selfish, cruel, and even sadistic people to act as they do. It doesn't excuse them, but it is my belief (one I believe Austen shared) that better education (including training in emotional intelligence, which our society seems to totally neglect except as a corporate management tool) would greatly decrease the number of people fitting those descriptions.

    Mrs. Bennet is, quite literally, fighting for survival. She may have the trapping of a gentlewoman - house, clothes, carriage, but mentally she is little better than those savages Darcy so aptly compares her youngest daughters to. Picture her, spear in hand, hunting in a forest where there is very little game. She cares not who gets hurt in the process; she needs to put food on the table. In this case, she needs to keep a roof over both her and her daughters' heads. I always thought that, had she a son, we would have found her far less frantic (and ruthless) in her methods. After all, where would Mrs. Austen, Cassandra, and Jane have been had they not all those strapping Austen men to care for them?

  14. I think that the portrayal of the Gardiners, who are from roughly the same background as Mrs. Bennet (one of them is her sibling, but I don't know if it's stated which, but both are very well-mannered people) is a slight flaw in the "breeding" argument. Also, there are the absolutely vicious characters like Lucy Steele. I'm not entirely sure how intelligence fits in to this equation. Austen does seem to equate intelligence to having a higher moral plane - all her heroines and heros tend to be very intelligent - but as you note, many of those who simply don't have that capacity are not, indeed, evil: Mrs. Jennings, Miss Bates, Mr. Woodhouse, Nancy Steele - who come from all different classes.

    I don't want to portray Austen as a classless author at all - but I think she did expect more manners and kindness out of even her more disadvantaged characters than Mrs. Bennet displays.

    You know, I don't know what Steadman says about the performance. Most of the interviews I've read or seen have to do with the filming process or the period. Very interesting omission.

    I don't resent your latter two paragraphs - thank you for being so gracious! I'm very impressed - or perhaps I've just gotten older (I think it's more impressed, though - I've not improved that much yet). I do indeed hope that my ability and desire to sympathize with people who annoy, irritate, hurt, or simply just don't understand me increases with age, and I think that reading someone like Austen, who does tend to portray even her evil and annoying characters with deep sympathy will help with that process. Now there might be the problem - it's been years since I've reread Pride and Prejudice (but, but, I've just started rereading The Lord of the Rings! Not to mention the reading I must do for school (Vanity Fair, bleh)).

    I'm curious, though - Mrs. Bennet's efforts to get her daughers married almost inevitably backfires - I always feel it's in spite of her put downs of others, her blatant flattery and rudeness, and her extremely poor raising of her daughters that she "succeeds" at her goal. What do we make of that?

  15. Ah - but Mr. Gardiner (who is the sibling to Miss Bennet) received the benefits of a formal education, unlike his sisters, who apparently were left as much to their own devices at Kitty and Lydia.

    Yes, many of Mrs. Bennet's schemes fall flat, though her horrid notion of sending Jane to Netherfiled via horseback in the rain proves rather effective, doesn't it? I am going to commit a sin of egotism , and quote myself. This is how I refer to the affair in my book: "Jane proceeded to Netherfield on horseback, was thoroughly drenched by the anticipated rain, and yet another one of Mrs. Bennet's schemes played out exactly as planned. Or, should I say, even better than planned, for Mrs. Bennett won not only the skirmish but the battle when, right in the middle of her dinner with the two sisters, as Caroline mercilessly pried into the Bennet family's connections, Jane began to display the alarming symptoms of a cold. The cold called forth Elizabeth from Longbourn to Netherfield and low and behold, Mrs. Bennett had two daughters in residence at Netherfield for the better part of a week! The history books offer few records of generals who have executed campaigns more masterfully than this one by Mrs. Bennet."

    I'm glad I didn't offend you, though I must admit that you, in turn, succeeded (unintentionally I'm sure)in getting my dander up. Vanity Fair, bleh???? It's going to take me a while to recover from that one.

  16. Oh, dear. I certainly didn't mean to do that. I just don't enjoy such a cynical book, especially at such a length (I find it humorous that you are here advocating for Mrs. Bennet, one of Jane Austen's most darkly cynical satires, but also liking Vanity Fair, which makes Mrs. Bennet look like a paragon of love and manners).

    Excellent point about Mr. Gardiner. I really need to reread P&P, clearly. The sociopathic scheme of Jane in the Rain doesn't really help or hinder Jane's relationship - it does, ironically, help Darcy to fall in love with Lizzy (which both Mrs. Bennet and Lizzy never intended). Yes, she achieves her end of getting Jane to stay at Netherfield, but I don't think that really did anything, as Bingley still didn't believe Jane loved him.

  17. Have you read Vanity Fair before? If you are only part way through it, hang in there - the righteous will be vindicated (for the most part).

    Bingley didn't believe Jane loved him because Darcy convinced him she didn't. That time at Netherfield I consider essential to the Bingley/Jane romance - when else would they have been able to spend such relatively private moments together, without the rest of the Bennet family's interference?

  18. I've not read VF - I'm only doing so for school - and I know that the righteous (that is, Dobbin and Amelia) will be vindicated - but they tend to be so drippy and/or stupid/helpless/lied to/imposed upon that their vindication will come a bit too late for me.

    Besides, if I want a good righteous-vindicated novel, I'll go for Dickens - just as long, but not nearly as tedious or cynical.

    I guess we'll just have to disagree about Mrs. Bennet's effectiveness - I don't really see Netherfield as that important - but that's probably partly because Austen cut out any conversations Jane and Bingley might have had there, and only mentioned them talking, focusing instead on Lizzy and Darcy's debates.