Title: The Dolorous Passion of Mary Bennet
Fandom: Jane Austen. Talk about going back to one's roots.
Archiving: only at the DWG and my website.
Date: Jan. 11, 2005
Summary: Prudery pays off.
Dedication: to Orphne, because if the Dwiggies kick me off for posting this there, then at least for once I will be able to say I told you so!
Mary Bennet is surrounded by universal truths. Her favorite word is maxim; her favorite writer is Fordyce, because no one has more insight into the truth than Fordyce—well, possibly Saint Augustine, but his insight is much more perplexing and far less stern than Fordyce, which means he can’t possibly be as sure of himself as Fordyce; and if one is not sure of one’s truth than it isn’t much of a truth, so Mary thinks.
Mary often feels guilty that she is not sadder about her family, since they are all blinded to God. She supposes she might be more upset if she could convince herself that God had any use for them; but though she can see where Jane could be of significance to The Lord if she would only learn to speak of His vengeance instead of being so forgiving, she has great difficulty seeing what use He could have for Lydia’s silliness or Elizabeth’s irreverence. Despite her misgivings, it is not as if Mary has not tried. She is quite certain that she has spoken the truth to her sisters far too many times for her attempts to go unacknowledged in the hereafter. A female of lesser moral compunction would have undoubtedly given up the very first moment Lydia told her that if there was a Heaven she didn’t think it likely it would be all that jolly a place, what with everyone having to play harps all the time. But Mary knows that she alone is able to persist in reaching the faithless.
She does not mind the indignity of needing to explain God’s Word to them, of having to illuminate what should be inherent to every soul. They have closed their hearts, and she will be rewarded for her efforts at reaching them against their wills. Besides, Fordyce has informed her that she gains a celestial beauty with every slight she endures at the hands of her sisters.
She is not waiting for that beauty to manifest itself on her face. Lydia has taught her all she needs to know about the price of being called pretty. She does not need anyone to compliment her, or tell her that she is first on their list at a dance. She has treasures in heaven that far outweigh any worldly temptations. But Mary is not stupid. When Lizzy smiles at her, in that way she has of making Mary feel as if she has been living all her life in a locked room, Mary knows what she is thinking: ‘Mary is pitiable; Mary hides behind her books; Mary knows nothing of life and is afraid to learn; Mary is alone.’
Mary is no fool, though only a fool indeed, and a wanton fool, would mistake reverence for fear. If Mary is pitiable, it is only to those who have traded their souls for fleeting earthly delights. If Mary is alone, it is only because God has not sent her anyone worthy of being her spiritual partner through life. If Mary hides in books it is only because she has seen the insipid pleasures of Meryton and they can afford her no joy; only a relationship with the true and living God can do that.
Said relationship takes a startling new turn for the unexpected one night when Mary wakes in a sweat to find her hands in unfamiliar locations and her sheets damp with biblical fervor. Having read numerous times about states of ecstasy and nuns she has fully prepared herself for the experience. No one has ever told her that it could be quite so ecstatic, however. Here, at last, is the ultimate conversion on Earth; now all of Solomon’s poetry begins to make so much more sense to her, and Mary, ever-receptive to the call of God, enters a state of ecstasy three times that night and twice more the following morning. She might have been blessed to lie in Rapture even longer, had not she remembered that even virgins touched by the Lord have to get up and get dressed at some point—she cannot recall any religious figures who have experienced holy union in a state of dishabille.
When Betsy the maid enters for the bedclothes, she takes a long, serious look at Mary’s face. Mary contemplates speaking to her of her wondrous experience, but then, thinking that her communion is not one that ought to be sullied by human communication, folds her hands quietly together and lets her virtuous radiance speak for itself.
Upon taking up her bedsheets, the maid turns slowly to where Mary sits by the window, face haloed by the morning sun, shining upon her as it surely has shone upon no resident of Longbourne before this. “Pardon me, miss,” she says, curtseying, “but I—I just want you to know I won’t say a word about this to anyone!”
“Is it that easy to tell?” says Mary breathlessly. “It’s as I always hoped, then. Fordyce was right.” She is not sure whether she ought to look heavenwards in gratitude or down in modest reverence, so she settles for beaming at Betsy, who blinks, in what must be a pose of humble thanks. She does not have time to elaborate; her countenance alone must suffice as explanation of her transformation. She has been blessed, but there is more work to be done: her sisters must see the ethereal change that has been wrought upon her; they must know that they, too, can achieve such spiritual happiness if they will only surrender their hearts to God.
Clearly, it is Mary’s burden to experience these holy episodes, that she might display her closeness to Him before her family by means of bringing them closer to God. If she can do this, she has no doubt that she shall surely receive another visitation from the Almighty.
Perhaps, she thinks, she can wreak a conversion out of Kitty before noon.