It's always interesting to see other people's interpretations of Jane Austen's characters. I was thinking recently about Mary Bennet, and although other people generally see her as an object of pity, I think that Mary has a high opinion of herself and that she is above her company, if not downright smug. And so I had fun writing some extracts from her diary. No, a whole book will not be forthcoming, but I hope this makes you laugh!
1800Wednesday 1st January
It is very hard being the only intellectual in the family, a fact I had not appreciated until I came to make my New Year’s Resolutions.I will spend three hours a day in rational conversation
This is impossible, since no-one else in the house is capable of such a thing. Papa might be able to equal my intellect, if he would only apply himself and make suitable extracts from the books he reads, but he prefers to spend his time laughing at Mama. Mama is incapable of talking about anything except balls and bonnets, and my sisters are no better, in fact, they are worse. Elizabeth and Jane are well enough, though they seldom open a book, but Kitty and Lydia spend all their time walking to Meryton to see my aunt, and looking at bonnets on the way.
They are none of them my intellectual equals.
Mr Shackleton agreed with me when I confided in him at my Aunt and Uncle Phillips’ house this evening. Although he is only my uncle’s clerk he shows some signs of intelligence and I believe his friendship to be worth cultivating. Mr Shackleton also believes the friendship is worth pursuing.
Shakespeare said, Friendship is constant.
Goldsmith said, Friendship is a disinterested commerce between equals
I have copied both of these thoughts into my books of extracts, and I have composed one of my own: There is nothing so pure as friendship.
Mr Shackleton was much taken with it. I felt it my duty to tell him that he might write it into his own book of extracts if he wished.I will spend three hours a day practising the pianoforte
This is not easy as Mama comes into the room after ten minutes and says, ‘What is all that noise? Really, Mary, have some compassion on my poor nerves,’ whilst my younger sisters laugh at me and tell me to play a jig.
Mr Shackleton agrees with me that sonatas are of great intellectual beauty, whereas there is no intellectual value in a jig.
I have promised him I will write a maxim on the subject.I will spend three hours a day sewing blankets for the needy
Mama said that I had better sew blankets for the Bennets then as we will soon be needy.
‘If not for the entail I should encourage you to help the poor,’ she said, ‘but once an entail is involved there is no knowing what might happen. As soon as your father dies we will all be turned out of our home and we will need those blankets because we will all be sleeping under the hedgerows.’
I will devote three hours a day to learning a new instrument
Lydia said it was bad enough that she had to listen to me playing the pianoforte and that she could not bear to listen to me learning to play the harp.
Lydia is a Philistine.
She only laughed when I said so, and danced around the room, saying, ‘Phyllis Stein, Phyllis Stein, Lord! What a lark! Kitty, you must not call me Lydia from now on, my new name is Phyllis Stein.’I will spend three hours a day making extracts from improving books
Kitty said that I had much better read a novel, and Mama agreed, saying that gentlemen do not marry girls who think too much.
‘They do not marry girls who dance too much, either,’ I said.
This is a sore point with Mama, as Mr Bingley has left Netherfield without proposing to Jane. The rest of the family feel his loss quite as keenly as Mama, but I am a philosopher and so I bear it with equanimity. Indeed, I believe his friend, Mr Darcy, is the more worthy of the two gentlemen, despite popular opinion. Mama took against him because he said that Elizabeth was only tolerable, but in point of fact he was telling the truth. Elizabeth is not a great beauty like Jane, nor is she ugly. She is, indeed, merely tolerable.
I believe that Mr Darcy might be an intellectual, like me, but unless he returns to Netherfield, I will not have a chance to find out.I will spend three hours a day in healthful exercise
Elizabeth said that if I carried out all my resolutions they would amount to eighteen hours of useful activity every day and when would I sleep? I replied that I was willing to sacrifice a few hours’ sleep every night in order to preserve my position as the most accomplished young lady of the neighbourhood.
Jane commended my resolutions but thought them misguided. Jane is a sweet girl but not even her best friend could call her an intellectual.Saturday 4th January
We attended the Meryton assembly this evening. Mr Shackleton was there and he was very impressed with my maxim on the subject of music: A jig might feed the body but a sonata feeds the soul.
I did not dance. I believe that Mr Darcy had the right of it when he refrained from the activity, saying that every savage could dance.
Instead, I had a rational conversation with Mr Shackleton. It is good to know that there is one person in Meryton who has a brain, even if, when I told him I was thinking of becoming a bluestocking, he said that he was sure I would be the most intelligent girl in Meryton, whatever colour stockings I wore. I had to inform him that a bluestocking was an intellectual woman who spent her time in rational activities, and who discussed literature and other intellectual things, instead of wasting her time on balls and bonnets. He listened attentively and then apologised earnestly for his mistake. I told him graciously that it was no matter, and we continued to have an intellectal discussion about music and literature.
To be sure, I thought I had misjudged him when I felt his hand on my knee. But when I reproved him, saying that we were in Meryton and not in Sodom and Gomorrah, he was heartily offended and said that he had merely been brushing a moth from my gown.
It was then my turn to apologise.Monday 13th January
We dined with the Lucases this evening. Sir William happened to mention that Charlotte had been blessed with her husband, Mr Collins, who was in every way an estimable son in law, and who combined the virtues of an excellent living with the blessings of a noble patroness in the form of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. This annoyed Mama, who was not pleased to be reminded of the nuptials. She remarked that if Elizabeth had not been such an obstinate girl, she could have had Mr Collins, and not Charlotte.
It was this very obstinacy which caused Mr Collins to withdraw his offer and seek consolation elsewhere. Mama was of the opinion that if Charlotte Lucas had not been so artful, Mr Collins would have proposed to me. And indeed, if he had done so, I believe I might have been prevailed upon to accept him. With guidance, I think he would have made me a tolerable husband. He has some intelligence, as his rank as a clergyman shows, and with a settled course of reading he might have one day become my intellectual equal.
But I think, on the whole, that Mr Darcy would make a better husband for me. We have many opinions in common for we both think that Elizabeth is merely tolerable and that every savage can dance. Moreover, he has the experience to appreciate an intellectual wife. As Mrs Darcy, I would have a fine library at my disposal, and I would be in a position to do a great many good works, including sewing numerous blankets for the needy, for I would never have to save the blankets for myself as I would never be in a position to sleep under the hedgerows.
If Mr Darcy returns to the neighbourhood, I think I will show him my extracts.Friday 25th July
My sister Lydia is in Brighton and my sister Elizabeth is in Derbyshire, which means that I can practise on the pianoforte for hours together without any interruption. To be sure, Mama says my playing gives her as headache and Papa asks if I would not rather be outdoors, and Kitty cries whenever I approach the instrument, but these are no more than the ordinary obstacles which fall into the path of the intellectual.
Mr Shackleton agrees with me. I discussed the matter with him this evening, when we both dined with my aunt Phillips, and he said that the lives of the great were always fraught with difficulty.
I was prevailed upon to play the pianoforte after dinner. I was just embarking on my second sonnata when I was alarmed to find Mr Shackleton’s arm around me. He was shocked when I reproved him and said that I had mistaken his motives entirely, explaining that he had merely been reaching round me to turn over the pages of my music.
Harmony was restored, as I remarked to him as I embarked on a third sonnata, and he laughed at my witticism and said that I should make a note of it in my book of extracts. I have duly done so. My only regret is that no one ever reads the book. I am sure my sisters would benefit from it, for it would be sure to impart learning and wisdom to anyone who opened its pages. I have tried to encourage Lydia and Kitty to read it, and to be sure Lydia started to do so, but she only laughed when she read that Mr Shackleton had had his hand on my knee, and Kitty was no better, saying that there should only be one n in sonata.Sunday 3rd August
My sister Lydia is ruined. I am not surprised. If ever a girl was born to be ruined it is Lydia. She has run away with an officer.
Mama has spent the day bewailing her poor baby’s fate, though as I remarked to Mama, Lydia is not in point of fact a baby, but a young lady of fifteen summers.
Mama ignored me, saying that if she had only had her way we would all have gone to Brighton. When I said that, if she had carried the day, she might now have four daughters who had run away with officers instead of only one, she told me that she wished I would run away and then I would not be able to plague her with my moralising.
Poor Mama! She would never be accepted into the bluestockings, she has far too many nerves.Monday 4th August
My sister Jane has spent the morning writing to Elizabeth, whilst I have spent my time more profitably by making suitable extracts to sustain my family in their hour of need.Saturday 9th August
Elizabeth has returned home, my father has gone to London, and Mama expects Lydia, daily, to be found. She talks of her marriage but I fear that no marriage will be forthcoming. Lydia is not the sort of young lady that men marry. She is the sort of young lady that men run off with and then abandon to a life of poverty and vice.
I memorised one of my extracts and comforted my sisters by telling them that, although it was a most unfortunate affair, and one which would be much talked of, we must stem the tide of malice and pour into the wounded bosoms of each other the balm of sisterly consolation.
Elizabeth was humbled into silence by my wise words, and, seeing how affected she was, I added that, unhappy as the event must be for Lydia, we could draw from it a useful lesson: that loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable - that one false step involves her in endless ruin - that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful - and that she cannot be too much guarded in her behaviour towards the undeserving of the other sex.
Elizabeth was speechless with admiration.
Mr Shackleton, too, who had learnt of the matter from my aunt, thought the sentiments very well expressed.Saturday 16th August
Mr Collins has written to my father. He has sent a very sensible letter in which he has advised my father to throw off his unworthy child from his affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence.
His sentiments were so ably expressed that I have borrowed his letter and I have copied it into my book of extracts.Monday 25th August
My aunt and uncle have managed to arrange a wedding for my sister and she is soon to be married. Mama was in transports of delight, saying that she longed to see Lydia again, and what fun it would be to introduce her to all the neighbourhood as Mrs Wickham. Papa said that Lydia should never set foot in the house. Lydia and Wickham will arrive next week and stay for ten days.Wednesday 3rd September
My sister has had the benefit of clergy and is now Mrs Wickham.Thursday 4th September
I am very disappointed in Papa. When Lydia arrived, he had an opportunity to tell her how grievously she had sinned, and to extol her to be a better woman in the future, instead of which he laughed at her iniquities and those of her husband.
It emerged that Mr Darcy had been at her wedding, indeed, he seems to have arranged it. This was very wrong of him. He should have roundly condemned Lydia, as Mr Collins did. I think that Mr Collins would have made me a better husband, after all.
Mr Shackleton agreed with me. He said that wealthy gentlemen never make good husbands and that the best husbands are often clerks. I was surprised at this, but he assured me that he had read it somewhere and he has promised to find the passage so that I might make an extract of it.
Thursday 18th September
Mr Bingley has returned to the neighbourhood. Mama believes he means to make Jane an offer, but as I said to Mr Shackleton, we have been down that path before. I only hope that Jane is not too disappointed when Mr Bingley disappears again.Wednesday 8th October
Mr Bingley has propsed to Jane. Mr Darcy has proposed to Elizabeth. Mama has proposed that we all move to Pemberley after the wedding.
I was surprised that Mr Bingley offered for Jane because he seemed eager to leave Netherfield last year and as for Mr Darcy, he has never looked twice at Elizabeth in his life, except to find fault with her and to say that she was only tolerable. I have read much about the fickleness of women, and indeed I have made many extracts on the subject, but it has become clear to me that men are the fickle sex.
I am beginning to lose my faith in extracts.Tuesday 30th December
Jane, Elizabeth and Lydia are married. Kitty and I are the only two girls remaining at home. Kitty says she will never find a husband if Papa keeps her chained to the house, however she has been to stay with Elizabeth once, Jane twice and my aunt Gardiner three times, so I think her image of chains is not intellectually chosen. When I pointed this out to Mama she said, ‘Oh, Mary, do be quiet,’ but Mr Shackleton agreed with me.
He told me I looked charming in my new gown and asked me to dance with him when we met at my aunt’s house tonight. When I demurred, he reminded me that dancing was a healthful exercise and said that, in point of fact, he thought it more beneficial than playing the pianoforte, for that exercises only the fingers and dancing exercises the entire body.
I was much struck by his comment and I have decided that I should dance more often.
As Mr Shackleton led me back to my seat, I overheard my Aunt Phillips saying that we had had three weddings last year, and would no doubt soon have another one.
I cannot think what she means, unless Kitty has enraptured one of the officers, but no doubt I will discover her meaning in time.
After all, I am an intellectual.Amanda Grange