Those who’ve read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” might remember focal character Mrs. Bennet, a woman described as “of little information” and perhaps perceived as melodramatic. She says things that mortify her five daughters – each with a different personality and at different stages of their lives – and is seen as the fool of the family.
But that was then.
Now, La Jolla resident and executive artistic director for Vantage Theatre, Dori Salois Salerno, has written a “Pride and Prejudice” spin-off from the perspective of Mrs. Bennet – and mama is no fool. Available at amazon.com “Mrs. Bennet’s Sentiments” explains the “method to her madness,” the author said.
“I re-read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ recently and there was a section that seemed different this time around. Darcy was making fun of country families and Mrs. Bennet called him out on it, and her daughters disregarded her with the all-too-familiar eye-roll. But I thought, this mother is telling the truth. It made me think that maybe there was another reason for her to act the way she does besides just being ridiculous,” she said.
For example, in the classic story, Bennet’s youngest daughter runs away with someone and rushes into marriage, which elates her mother despite the fact that the groom is a “terrible person,” she said. In her spin-off, Salerno takes Bennet’s joy at the situation as a cover-up. “Mrs. Bennet might have thought if she acts embarrassed, everyone will know this is a scandal. So maybe she thought, ‘I’m going to celebrate and be happy,’ so no one thinks twice. So there’s a reason and a method to her madness, not just ignorance.”
Salerno began to draft a version of the book in 2010, but it fell to wayside between college visits for her own daughters and theatrical productions. But when she had the time, she would look at the five daughters Austen wrote into her novel and the types of personalities they possess – one dreamy, one sarcastic, one wild, one intelligent and one emotional. Drawing from her own experience and watching moms in her circles of friends, Salerno looked at how different parents handled those personalities, and wrote it into her book.
“I based a lot of this on the mothers I’ve met in La Jolla … they are all in there in the way Mrs. Bennet interacts with her daughters. The mothers here in La Jolla are very strong and have different modes of mothering, so I used that to give Mrs. Bennet the tools to support her daughters in whatever their needs are,” she said. “In fact, I saw one of them at the grocery store and she asked what I was up to these days, I had to tell her she was in my book!”
Although written from the perspective of a mother, Salerno assures that both mothers and daughters will be able to relate to the themes in “Mrs. Bennet’s Sentiments.”
“Most of us have or had teenage daughters and they’ll all recognize some moments,” she said. “She is good to her daughters, but her daughters are not so good to her. But then they come together.” Salerno added that the only frustrating part for young women who have read the book, is that the mother is always right!
A derivation from Salerno’s regular medium, “Mrs. Bennet’s Sentiments” is the first book by the 30-year resident of La Jolla. As the Executive Artistic Director of the Vantage Theatre, her most recent works include Lynne Kaufman’s “Be Here Now: The Journey of Ram Dass” at the OB Playhouse and Joel Drake Johnson’s “Rashida Speaks,” a 2015 nominee for Best Off-Broadway Play, held at a makeshift space at the La Jolla Congregational Church.
Next for the artist is a “massive” production that will combine “Cadenza: Mozart’s Last Year” and “Mozart’s Requiem” with orchestra and choir. “It will be a huge undertaking. I’d like to have it in La Jolla, but we’re still in the ‘we’ll see’ stage,” Salerno said.
Beyond that, perhaps a sequel to Mrs. Bennet’s Sentiments?