All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley

on December 11, 2019

The Clergyman’s Wife 
Molly Greeley
Allen & Unwin
2019, 288p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A moving story of unexpected love featuring Charlotte from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

In this Pride and Prejudice-inspired novel, not everyone has the luxury of waiting for love. Charlotte Collins knows this well …

Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, is the respectable wife of Hunsford’s vicar, and sees to her duties by rote: keeping house, caring for their adorable daughter, visiting parishioners and patiently tolerating the lectures of her awkward husband and his condescending patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Intelligent, pragmatic and anxious to escape the shame of spinsterhood, Charlotte chose this life: an inevitable one so socially acceptable that its quietness threatens to overwhelm her. Then she makes the acquaintance of Mr Travis, a local farmer and tenant of Lady Catherine.

In Mr Travis’ company, Charlotte feels appreciated, heard and seen. For the first time in her life Charlotte begins to understand emotional intimacy and its effect on the heart-and how breakable that heart can be. With her sensible nature confronted and her own future about to take a turn, Charlotte must now question the role of love and passion in a woman’s life, and whether they truly matter for a clergyman’s wife.

When I read the description of this, I had to request it for review. I have read a lot of Austen-inspired work, adaptations, modern day depictions, and of course, books that deal with the same characters after Pride & Prejudice ends. I’ve read books about Darcy and Elizabeth, a book about Bingley and Jane, books about Mary Bennet and Georgiana Darcy as well. But I’ve never read a book about Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas and I thought that would be really, really interesting.

Charlotte is of course, Elizabeth’s best friend, a 27yo plain spinster from a family that has neither a lot of money nor strong connections. When Elizabeth refuses Mr Collins’ proposal, he goes to stay with the Lucas family after the humiliation. And just a short time later, Charlotte accepts his proposal. When Lizzy is horrified for her friend, Charlotte is tired of uncertainty and just wants a secure home, the respectability of being married. Mr Collins has a good living as the parson for Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself and of course, the unspoken thing is that one day, he will inherit Longbourne from his cousin Mr Bennet and Charlotte will be mistress of Lizzy’s family home.

This was really, really enjoyable. It gives an unflinching glimpse into Charlotte’s married life to Mr Collins, an odious bore but at least one who means well and isn’t cruel or violent towards her. He’s just incredibly boring, incredibly stifling and obsequious to his most generous patron. Charlotte has a comfortable life, even if she’s not entirely confident in her role of that of wife to a clergyman. She has a young daughter that she dotes on, that Mr Collins mostly leaves her alone to parent and she can endure frequent dining at Rosings with Lady Catherine because Charlotte has always been the embodiment of demure grace and respectability. She knows precisely how to deal with the difficulties of her talkative husband and the snobby and demanding Lady Catherine. But that doesn’t meant that she doesn’t have a lot of inner frustration.

Charlotte gets a glimpse of the sort of marriage she might have made, had she made another choice or met someone in a different way when she encounters Mr Travis, a farmer tenant of Lady Catherine’s, engaged to help plant and care for roses that Lady Catherine gets in her mind to install at the parsonage. Mr Travis is amiable and friendly and he and Charlotte share an early morning connection as she soothes her fractious, teething daughter. He is intelligent but not a gentleman, his hands are rough and often filthy in the way of a farmer. He’s more introspective than her husband and Charlotte perhaps is made aware through this connection (or even more aware) of the lack of emotional intimacy in her life. She’s quite far from her family, she has no friends in this new life and she and her husband share a cordial relationship but not one that is warm or affectionate. It’s merely duty and responsibility and Charlotte sees what it might have been like to perhaps share something more in a marriage – genuine love, affection and even sexual attraction.

It was interesting seeing familiar characters through new eyes – Darcy and Elizabeth do visit Rosings in the book (I’m honestly not sure how likely that would’ve been to happen, given the last interaction of Lady Catherine and Elizabeth) and Charlotte provides an unflinching look at her friend and also her friend’s marriage. Charlotte wasn’t around for the actual development of Darcy and Elizabeth although she’s heard about it in letters. This is her first chance to observe them as a couple and it takes her a while to see through Darcy’s rather brusque manner but she comes to witness their emotional intimacy too. Elizabeth has the type of marriage she always desired (luckily her husband is also incredibly wealthy and Elizabeth never needs to worry about the future).

This is one of the better books I’ve read that takes a character from a famous book and expands upon it. Charlotte’s internal monologue felt so honest and even though she’s not given to bouts of self pity and she knows exactly what the consequences are of the decision she made, you can feel her loneliness, her longing. Her examination of her life and the choices that led her to where she is isn’t self indulgent, more just…..stoic acceptance of the way her life has played out but in some ways, with a bit of fanciful dreaming of ‘what if’. Even though Charlotte was always portrayed as sensible and pragmatic, I suppose everyone is prone to some fanciful dreaming at some stage in their lives. I wasn’t sure how this was going to end – or how I wanted it to end, actually. It’s a much more complex time with more rigid marital and societal rules. It ended up feeling very realistic for me though.

I think this was a wonderful read. It didn’t feel perfect for Austen’s time and place but it was close, written with empathy and compassion and a real sense of human emotion.

8/10

Book #207 of 2019


2 responses to “Review: The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley

  1. I admit to never reading this type of fan fiction / spin off story. I’ve never known how I felt about the genre that is ‘inspired’ by another work. Interesting reading your passion for it and for this title. Mind you, I kept seeing the preacher from the Keira Knightly movie version. great casting!!!

  2. I have this as well and your review makes me very excited now!

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