I just finished reading a book called The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. The book is a sequal of sorts to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I loved Pride and Prejudice. As a 15-year old, it was one of my favourite books. I must admit however, I didn’t even notice Mary’s existence in the book. I picked up the book because I thought it’d be interesting to revisit a classic and also because I loved Colleen McCullough’s Thorn Birds.
Twenty pages into the book, I couldn’t believe it was written by the author of Thorn Birds. Added to that, the fact that Darcy and Elizabeth had a less than ideal marriage was not something I was pleased with. And try as I might, I could not remember Mary Bennet, whom the story was about. Decent book, don’t expect Pride and Prejudice, it is light reading with a dash of Victorian romance and sensibilities.
Now that the review is done, the part of the book that got me thinking. Darcy is portrayed as this man who keeps the Bennet sisters separate and under his control in order to ensure his Prime Ministerial aspirations. He has a son who is bordering on effeminate which makes it his worst fear. He has four daughters who he believes must be seen and not heard and a wife who has ‘become a mouse’. Jane has a husband who can’t ‘plug his cock’ and is eternally pregnant. Charles Bingley also has plantations in Jamaica, not to mention a wife and family there. The supposedly strong protagonist, Mary Bennet is out to write a book on England’s poor because it will fulfil her life. She gets abducted and lost and three men come to her rescue. She then heads on orphanage, fulfilling her social desires.
Now this novel is set in the 1813 and what I found striking is that it’s not very far different from India in 2012. And this is urban India with a thriving middle class. There is the corporate business man who controls his wife’s family with money for his own motives. There is the one rebel sister and there is the one man who can find love nowhere else. The book was pleasant enough, introspection however made me angry. Why was I being fed these stereotypes from every end? Not taking anything away from women who fight battles for rights everyday but where are the men who fight them too? Where are the stories of people who’ve endured and survived?
There is cause for concern if our literature and media are still showing a story we should have forgotten centuries ago and touting it as independence.