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    This retelling of Pride & Prejudice has five Mary Bennets.

    James Folta

    June 10, 2024, 12:09pm

    Everyone knows that there are five Bennet sisters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine (Kitty), and Lydia. But what would happen if Jane Austen’s Longbourn estate were full of Marys, the Bennets’ most boring and tedious daughter, instead of just one? A new project called Pride & Prejudice: Oops All Marys imagines just that, reworking the classic novel with the addition of four more Marys.

    The rewrite, written by artist and writer Carly Monardo and comedian and musician Tim Platt, started as a text bit during the pandemic, but quickly turned into a full-blown, novel-length project, with eight chapters already released on Substack and more on the way.

    The tone of the writing is an excellent parody of Austen’s Regency-era style, broken only sparingly for the anachronistic joke:

    No truths are universally acknowledged.

    There are truths widely circulated; truths inherently understood (but rarely stated); and then there are truths which are so ridiculous, so irregular, that no member of polite society would dare utter them aloud. Mr. Bennet had to live with one of these truths, which was, impossibly, that each of his five daughters was “Mary.”

    There have been many fine stories written about families of daughters, with each young lady shining in their own vibrant hue: the amiable beauty, the headstrong tomboy, the wild little slut (sex-positive!) This, however, is a story of five sisters who are all, more or less, different shades of the exact same color.

    The Bennets, you see, were at the mercy of an entailment that would confer ownership of their estate at Longbourn to Mr. Bennet’s next surviving male relative. In their desperation to produce an heir, the Bennets instead begat a crop of young women—tedious, devout, and identical—who were all but doomed to become spinsters: Mary Jane, the demure but plain one; Mary Elizabeth, the forthright but plain one; Mary, the plainly plain one; Mary Catherine and Mary Lydia, the youngest, if not plainest, of them all.

    I reached out to Tim and Carly to ask them about their rewrite, Jane Austen, and what makes a Mary.

    * * *

    James Folta: “Oops All Marys” is a retelling and re-exploration of Pride & Prejudice, but more than anything it’s an exploration of the middle Bennet sister, Mary. What is this project? How many Marys are we talking here?

    Tim Platt: Five Marys.

    Mary Jane, Mary Elizabeth, Mary, Mary Catherine, and Mary Lydia.

    They are NOT twins.

    Carly Monardo: It was very important to me, as a twin, to get the biology right, here.

    Tim: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, on five separate occasions, gave birth to Mary: each plain, each moralizing, each dull.

    The five Marys must struggle to fulfill the narrative function Pride & Prejudice requires of them while fighting for the life they believe they deserve: spinsterhood, moral perfection, and the piano forte.

    I guess it is six Marys if you count Mary King but I don’t think we’ve really figured out how she functions in our outline yet.

    Carly: Part of what makes me interested in seeing this through as a whole novel instead of a sketch or essay is that I’m really amused by how the world has to bend around these weirdos. Assuming Darcy is Darcy, Bingley is Bingley etc., what has to change if the sisters are all Mary?

    James: What is your read on Mary? I always think of her as a high school debate society star who thinks too highly of herself, or as an overconfident cousin trying to intellectually outmaneuver the adults at Thanksgiving, but how would you describe her?

    Tim: To me, ultimately, Mary is the person who finds Mr. Collins a smokeshow.

    Carly: I agree with the overconfident cousin take! To me, she’s an exhausting and tedious little know-it-all, kind of an old woman before her time.

    James: What about Mary struck you as a character worth cloning and exploring further?

    Carly: There are certain adaptations and derivative works that try to make Mary interesting or dynamic and I think they are missing the joy of the character! She’s boring!

    Tim: I have always been comedically attracted to those that quote the Bible.

    James: Has spending so much time with Mary shifted your thinking on the character? Do you think the popular perception of her is correct? Are you getting sick of her, or more sympathetic to her?

    Tim: Mary is very much a Bennet. She is just as image-obsessed as Mrs. Bennet, just as eager for exhibition as Lydia, and just as quick to publicly put others in their place as Mr. Bennet or even Lizzy. She has just picked a very narrow lane: scolding. In some ways, she is the person who, today, would tweet “a group of men is called a PODCAST” in the hopes of staking her claim at being seen as “righteously good.”

    And of course, the “a group of men is called a PODCAST” of Austen’s England is “vanity and pride are different things, though they are often used synonymously.”

    Carly: I don’t think there are many great mysteries to Mary, but I do sort of feel bad for her—I don’t think she gets a lot of attention from her parents. The only Bennet sister more tragic, in my opinion, is Kitty, who has no interest in her own identity and allows herself to get bullied by that little slut Lydia (sex positive!).

    Tim: We are never sick of Mary because she is our baseline AND our central comedic conceit. There is always something funny about a Mary being a Mary. What interests me is when and how the force of the sisters’ other personalities must assert themselves. The sisters admire and envy Mary, who gets to be herself and herself alone, while they must function in a plot that asks them to be something more. To actually maintain the architecture of the novel, Mary Elizabeth must not only turn on some of that classic Lizzy charm, but also, like Lizzy (and quite unlike Mary) engage with the social dynamics around her on a sophisticated level.

    Carly: There is something sinister about our Mary. She’s the center of this surreal knot of sisters, and I think there is a bizarre power to that. She scares me a bit.

    James: You describe Oops All Marys as a lost Jane Austen novel, as well as a project “reliving and re-litigating” Pride & Prejudice. I know you haven’t finished the complete rewrite yet, but how has pinballing all these Marys through Meryton started to change the novel? Have you made any surprising discoveries?

    Tim: Beyond the dare of the title, I think what really made us feel the project had narrative legs was the idea that all sisters were gunning for Mr. Collins and none could have him. That being so central to our characters’ wants and desires really turns down the volume of Wickham drama, which creates a lot of space for us to play with how our characters realign, begrudgingly, away from Collins and towards their intended.

    Carly: Something I was very excited about, as a fan of melodrama, was making a hero out of Mrs. Bennet.

    Tim: She’s our voice of reason.

    Carly: Yeah! I think Mr. Bennet, similarly to Lizzy, is treated as the superior intellect in their family, but think about it: Mr. Bennet did a terrible job of securing a future for the women in his family. He can’t provide for them, the estate is entailed away, and then he has the nerve to make fun of his wife for wanting to take care of business. She understands the stakes.

    Tim: We were excited by a Mr. Bennet who, once realizing he has five Marys as daughters, joins forces with his wife. These Marys who seem destined for spinsterhood can’t marry off themselves! They need parental intervention!

    Carly: I am having a lot of fun discovering which plot points have to change from the original, and which are inevitable. In some cases, we wind up in the same place Austen did, but we took a stranger route to get there.

    We just ended Chapter 8 with a moment where, for the first time, Mary Elizabeth questions Mary’s perfection. I’m excited to see where things go from there; will she fall in line with the original plot (becoming more like Lizzy) or will she double down (staying more like Mary)?

    James: Do you have a favorite film or TV depiction of Mary Bennett?

    Tim: The BBC miniseries was mine and many’s introduction to the character so I have to go with Lucy Briers. Joel Kim Booster’s Fire Island is the best Pride & Prejudice adaptation in recent memory and Torian Miller’s take on Mary as the one friend in a party house who doesn’t want to party was fantastic. I enthusiastically recommend this movie to all Austen-heads.

    James: You’re both comedians — what do you make of Austen’s humor? Would you describe her books as funny?

    Carly: I’m not a comedian!

    Tim: I should say so!

    [Tim and Carly wrestle, limply]

    Carly: Austen is scathingly funny! It’s clear which characters she respects and which she finds ridiculous, but both are crafted with loving detail and specificity.

    It’s worth going back and rereading how she describes Caroline fawning over Darcy; we barely have to exaggerate it.

    Tim: Every novel contains absurd characters stating their absurd opinions and desires without absolute clarity and, because of either their own delusion or their social standing, they follow up their forthrightness with an expectation of applause.

    Carly: [Looking at Tim] Sounds a lot like someone I know.

    [More wrestling]

    Tim: [Giving the championship belt to a kid in the front row] I also think she has a great skill with punchlines. She will land a long, multi-claused sentence with a concise, withering take. She puts those punchlines in the voice of her characters but it’s even more prevalent in her authorial voice. I’m reminded of a lot of the humor of Shirley Jackson, who gets a lot of mileage out of letting the reader know what she thinks of the character with coy clarity.

    A real skeleton key for my own amusement with her universe is the tension between her use of the word “condescension” and what I, a Modern American, bring to the word. It means the same thing, to talk down to someone, but in Austen’s world, it is something to praise. Someone CLEARLY of a higher station chooses (condescends) to speak to their agreed-upon lessers. To us, condescension is more about the intolerable presumption that the person talking to you (condescension tends to happen TO the Modern American) acts as though they are above you, when NO one is above me, baby! The Latin roots say it all, someone is stepping down to join you. Austen treats that step as concrete, we treat that step as a power play.

    I dunno, I think that’s funny.

    Carly: Her writing is such a specific record of her time and society. It’s fun to see where it resonates in the modern world.

    Tim: And I think the language is able to do that because the characters she pokes at feel incredibly modern in their ridiculousness.

    Carly: Like y—

    [More wrestling]

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