The good: A great book for a Pride and Prejudice fan.
The not-so-good: A quiet read (and I still find Mr Collins annoying).
Why I chose it: Austen- inspired? I must read! Thanks to Allen & Unwin for indulging me.
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Setting: Jane Austen’s England
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
I, like many others, am a big fan of Jane Austen. And like most other fans, after having read and re-read her works, there is a sense of desolation. What do we do now? We can watch the miniseries and movies, but it’s not quite the same. There are a multitude of ‘what happened after’ Pride and Prejudice novels, but they focus on Elizabeth and Darcy. What about Charlotte Collins, who married not for love, but for security? Fortunately, Molly Greeley has considered this with her novel The Clergyman’s Wife.
The story focuses on Charlotte Lucas (now Collins) who lives a quiet life in a small village with her husband and daughter. Mr Collins is just as odious, worrying about everything from his new rose bushes to deep analysis of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s latest sentence. Charlotte takes all that in her stride, for she knows that she is lucky. Lucky to have a husband and a roof over her head and a living daughter, Louisa. While it is not an exciting life, it is a secure one. A chance meeting over new rose bushes has her sparking a friendship with farmer Mr Travis. Through his friendship, Charlotte grows as a person as love and meeting of the minds take on a new perception. She also begins to branch out on her own and to see herself as a person, rather than a half of a marriage.
This is a quiet story, but it is a rewarding. In Jane Austen’s books, Charlotte pales in comparison to the vivaciousness of the Bennet girls. Greeley really gets to the depths of Charlotte and reflects on her motivation to marry and the strength of her character to carry her through a marriage of convenience/necessity rather than love. Charlotte in The Clergyman’s Wife is nothing less than a whole, detailed character who is both wise beyond her time and incredibly practical. She is not someone to be pitied, but admired. Her friendship with Mr Travis is innocent, but adds to her character and the way she views the world. Mr Collins doesn’t quite know what a gem he has married.
Speaking of Mr Collins, I found him rather, er, yucky, in Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps this was due to Lizzy’s influence, but he made me squirm with his sycophantic admiration for Lady Catherine. Greeley takes it down a notch here, and paints him as a real man who lacks confidence in his standing. There are still a number of great fanboy moments in sucking up to Lady Catherine though! And of course, there is a glimpse or two of the Bennet and Darcy families. I admire Greeley for her restraint here, as it must have been tempting for Elizabeth to take over at times. But she and Mr Darcy are firmly in the minor character category. It’s Charlotte’s time to shine in this novel that is faithful to the language and period, but still a joy to read.
An assured, meticulous debut of a woman’s life and (lack of) choices in Regency England.