Pride and Prejudice and the Ugly Duckling: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

You’ll have to forgive the Jane Austen/fairytale mash-up here, because it is too apt to ignore. Do you remember Pride and Prejudice’s Mary Bennet? No, not the “light and bright and sparkling” Lizzy, nor the lovely if diffident Jane. Nor the irrepressibly boy-crazy Lydia. Mary: the awkward, ridiculous one with no special beauty, charm, or accomplishments to recommend her. Definitely the ugly duckling of the Bennet household, a figure to be ridiculed and consigned, in the reader’s mind, to future spinsterhood. It is this unpromising middle child that Janice Hadlow lovingly attempts to rehabilitate in the charming tale of hard-won happiness, The Other Bennet Sister.

Much as we all have over the past months, Mary endures a stifling existence almost entirely indoors throughout the first half of the book–whether at home, at balls, or at her various married sisters’ houses. This imprisoning interiority is exacerbated by the reader’s awareness of this “ridiculous” character’s rich, if rather gloomy, inner life. The entirety of Pride and Prejudice is reimagined through the consciousness of this neglected and negligible character; we as readers come to understand the sad underpinnings of Mary’s awkwardness and risible flaws–as well as her painful self-awareness and increasingly desperate efforts to change. Her misery comes to a climax during a disastrous attempt to entertain guests with her music, followed by the public humiliation she suffers at the hands of her ironic father and, most hurtfully, her beloved sister Elizabeth.

The book’s second half witnesses a slow but certain emergence into the sunlight, as Mary escapes the confines of Meryton and discovers the comforts of her sympathetic extended family and the exhilaration of anonymity in London. Here, she finally gets a genuine chance to reinvent herself–to discover her own self-worth and even to make a bid for lasting happiness. The transformation Hadlow effects is both natural and extraordinarily well done; a stately Austenian plot pace is preserved, even to the cadences and structure of the sentences. Readers will feel themselves to be in familiar territory, with one vital difference: Mary struggles to master her destiny and grasp happiness with both hands. She’s baulked by convention and frustrated by the role of her sex, but she perseveres. Does the ugly duckling attain swanhood? You may just have to find out for yourself!

One of the catalysts for Mary’s transformation is a newfound appreciation for Romantic poetry, especially selections from William Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads (available on hoopla) such as “Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” and “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge,” both of which extol the beauties of nature and the importance of a rich emotional life. You might try them for yourself–and if you’d like a companion soundtrack for your reading, have a listen to the album The Music of Jane Austen, a compilation of themes from various film adaptations.

You can find The Other Bennet Sister in both ebook and audiobook format on Overdrive/Libby. Feel free to share your reactions to this tale in the comments below!

Make Your Own Music: The Library of Congress’s “Citizen DJ” Project

Have you ever harbored daydreams of becoming a DJ? Or perhaps you’d love to create your own music album? We’re not talking 80s mixtapes here–we’re talking about actually remixing your own songs! Thanks to the “Citizen DJ” lab project at the Library of Congress, you can now do just that, with or without music-composition software. The project is in the beta stage, meaning that your testing and feedback is essential to making this communal effort towards socio-cultural, musical engagement a success!

The Library of Congress has curated many free audio/visual clips in various collections for everyone to use, from “The Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies,” to its “Free Music Archive,” to “American English Dialect Recordings” (all can be found at the Citizen DJ link above). You can browse and remix sounds like a pro hip-hop DJ right in your browser, or you can choose to download clips to your own music composition software and play with them there. Have a look at this helpful how-to video by Brian Foo from the Innovator-in-Residence Program at the Library of Congress:

Foo explains that hip-hop, the genre of music that creatively remixed diverse sound clips and was popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, has become largely restricted by copyright issues–but here all sound samples are free and waiting for you to take part in historically-informed, communal hip-hop-style fun! You may want to read more about the aims and scope of the project here.

Need some inspiration for your music-making venture? Our digital library is here for you! hoopla offers nearly 6000 hip-hop albums for you to listen to and learn from. A sample family-friendly search can be found here (not all albums are necessarily appropriate for kids, but Parental Advisory-labeled albums are filtered out). Your concert ticket? Your Marblehead library card! If you don’t yet have one, you can fill out this online form, and the library staff will be happy to get you started!

So, get your groove on!

A Calming Classical Soundtrack

Perhaps you’d just like to be for a while. Breathe in, breathe out. Reset your anxious mind. Release negative emotions. I’m not talking about virtual yoga classes here (though what an excellent idea!). I’m talking about revisiting–or discovering anew–the soothing power of classical music.

Your “new normal” routine may not allow you to drop everything and de-stress for long periods of time–and that’s where our newly-curated 2020 APL Calming Classical Soundtrack on hoopla will stand you in good stead! Pop in your earbuds and live in a soul-soothing soundscape while going about your daily tasks. You’ll have the illusion of a “calm bubble” while still maintaining productivity and maybe saving your sanity! 

Chief among the 35 work-friendly offerings in this collection are albums featuring composers from the Baroque and Classical eras: Bach, Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. There’s a reason for that! The music of these periods tends to be highly patterned and structured, with repeated themes and variations on those themes. Ideally, as you listen, your thoughts will untangle themselves and your concentration will improve.

You might try the albums Big Bach Set, Vol. 3, Handel: Water Music, Haydn: Classical Music for Relaxation, Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, or Mozart: Symphonies Nos. 35 & 39. Or go for baroque (bad pun, sorry) with a mixtape of sorts, featuring recorder soloist Lucie Horsch: Baroque Journey. And if you need to break your concentration for a while and stretch those desk-cramped limbs, you can’t go wrong with some lively Elizabethan birthday party music.

There’s plenty more to explore in the collection–good, old-fashioned lullabies, Romantic-era de-stressors like Fauré and Debussy, and even albums with “dream” or “chill” in the title–all recently released.

And if you exhaust these selections, have a look at hoopla’s The Most Relaxing Series for even more classical comfort. You can breathe out now!