|Lady Augusta Murray's commonplace book (Royal Collection Trust)|
These readings, however, overlook the fact that Mary is not, in Austen's telling, merely bookish and prim (and a little self-besotted). She's actively sanctimonious and vacuously sententious in ways that lead her into cruelty toward others. It's easy for a reader in our times to look at Mary and see a proto-nerd, a woman whose talents were thwarted by her times, a figure whom Austen should properly have sympathized with. But a closer look shows that Austen knew exactly what she was doing. Mary is, to her, not merely a passively boring sad sack, but an actively bad person.