The Bad Miss Bennet – A Novel by Jean Burnett


Lydia was never the most upstanding of the Bennet sisters, but who ever said that moral rectitude was fun?

At least she bested her elder sisters and was the first to get married. She never could understand what all the fuss was about; after she left Brighton with her gallant. It is a shame, though, that Mr. Wickham turned out to be a disappointing husband in so many aspects, the most notable being his early demise on the battlefields of Waterloo.

And so Lydia, still not yet twenty and full of enterprising spirit, is in urgent need of a wealthy replacement. A lesser woman, without Lydia’s natural ability to flirt uproariously on the dance floor and cheat seamlessly at the card table, would swoon in the wake of a dashing highwayman, a corrupt banker, and even an amorous Prince Regent. But on the hunt for a marriage that will make her rich, there’s nothing that Lydia won’t turn her hand to. In the meantime, she has no qualms about imposing on her sister Elizabeth’s hospitality at Pemberly. After all, what is the point of having all that fine fortune if not to aid a poor,
newly widowed younger sister?

While Lydia rattles around the continent from Paris to Venice and to the home of the disgraced Princess of Wales in Italy and back again to Darbyshire, you, dear reader, will be greatly diverted by the new adventures of Jane Austen’s consummate and incorrigible anti-heroine, who never ceases to delight.

Rating: C-

I normally steer clear of modern sequels to the classics, but this one looked intriguing. The eponymous heroine is, of course, Lydia Wickham, née Bennet, the youngest and arguably silliest of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice.

We meet her again three years after her elopement and marriage, and it’s immediately clear that she has not changed very much in the intervening years. She is still shallow and self-centred and at nineteen, is a widow of meagre means. Her marriage was not a happy one, Wickham having lived up to his reputation as a wastrel, and Lydia has become rather more cynical and hardened to life as a result. In many ways, she reminds me of Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp in that she has to exist on her wits and not much money and that her outlook is constantly one of working out how to turn any given situation to her advantage. As such, Becky is not always a likeable heroine, and the same can be said of Lydia. The difference, however, is that where Becky was clever, Lydia is not; and when – like her or not – there were times the reader is rooting for Becky as she gets one over on the society that looks down on her, the same is not true of Lydia, who in this novel, lurches from one disaster to another randomly and without exerting much (if any) control over her situation.

Using Lydia as the central character means that it is possible to construct an ‘adventure’ story around her, because she is already established as someone who does not behave according to convention and who has little regard for propriety. The novel is, then, a romp as our hapless anti-heroine is plunged from one intrigue to another via various sexual encounters (including one with Prinny himself!), a couple of romantic liaisons that don’t amount to anything – and eventually ends up being used to spy upon the behaviour of Princess Caroline in Italy.

There’s a handsome highwayman/ thief, a disreputable banker, a murdered aristocrat – in fact, numerous plot-threads that land Lydia into all sorts of hot water, but which, when it boils down to it, turn out to have very little to do with the story overall; and the dénouement is not at all satisfying. In fact, the book ends so abruptly as to have made me wonder if there were some pages missing!

The Bad Miss Bennet is frequently entertaining, well-written and often tinged with humour, but Lydia makes a very poor heroine. Her only ambitions in life (apart from wanting money) appear to be to dance at Almack’s, to go to Paris and to meet Lord Byron who, she tells us at several points (albeit not in such terms) is the object of her sexual fantasies.

Lydia has very little to recommend her, and although she is sometimes given to short-spells of self-awareness, they are very rare and soon disregarded. She isn’t very likeable and is, in fact, rather dim-witted; she spends the entire book being thrown from one difficult situation to another and is completely RE-active to events. It’s very hard to identify with a character who is so vacuous and I doubt she, as depicted here, could have served as the principal character in any other book for those very reasons. Giving her an established “name” has enabled the author to construct a fairly complex story without having to do much in the way of establishing or developing the character; Lydia ends the book two years older, but not at all wiser.

On a more positive note, I enjoyed the author’s writing style, and apart from a couple of slight anachronisms, found her dialogue and manner of expression to be good. I would like to see her tackle a story in which she features her own creations and in which she crafts a more cohesive plot.

With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy.


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