Title: The Clergyman’s Wife
Author: Molly Greeley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 3rd December 2019
Synopsis: In this Pride and Prejudice-inspired novel, not everyone has the luxury of waiting for love. Charlotte Collins knows this well…
Charlotte Collins, née Lucas, is the respectable wife of Hunsford’s vicar and sees to her duties by rote: keeping house, caring for their adorable daughter, visiting the 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’s 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.
Aimed at readers of Pride and Prejudice, The Clergyman’s Wife tells the story of what happened after Jane Austen’s story ends – of the fates of Charlotte, and the Bennets, whose presence in this story is linked to that of their cousin, Mr Collins, and his role in what will happen to their home, Longbourn after Mr Bennet passes away. Yet even those unfamiliar with the original story may enjoy this, as enough seems to be given to ground what has come before throughout, and the reasons behind Charlotte’s predicament in a marriage more of convenience than one of love and passion.
Whilst her friends, Lizzy and Jane are also, in a way, constrained by what society at the time expects of women in the various classes and marriages, it is as though they have a little more freedom. They married Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy – men of their choosing, in marriages of love and passion, where there are perhaps fewer pressures than on a clergyman’s wife. However, without seeing how these marriages affect these two, it is an observation of the reader and perhaps a little of Charlotte, that led me to this conclusion.
Charlotte is under pressure to produce a male heir – so he may inherit Longbourn and it can stay within that family. Other families and properties do not seem to have this pressure. Yet whilst Charlotte contends with this pressure from both her husband and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she also cares for the parishioners, which is at times, also questioned, much to her, and I must admit, my confusion. If she was undertaking her duties as clergyman’s wife, why was this opposed?
Once Mr Travis arrived, and she finally found someone she could talk to, I felt this got worse. To me, her love for Mr Travis felt different – there was a sense of respect at first, and friendship, that made the story – and Charlotte – come to life. Mr Collins was as unlikeable in this as he is in the original. Awkwardness aside, there were times I found him selfish, and perhaps a bit demanding, and isolated Charlotte when she truly needed him. And this is what would have made Charlotte attracted to Mr Travis – he listened to her, without demanding anything back. Without overlooking her, whereas everyone else had always talked over Charlotte or expected her to listen to them.
What blossoms is a friendship, I felt, more than romance. Charlotte does not seem the sort of character to go against what she has been taught and her responsibilities, yet she was tempted. However, her duty to her family pulled her in a different direction each time.
It is always interesting to read and watch retellings of Jane Austen to see how the themes and stories translate – and this can vary depending on the author and the setting of the new take on the story. Everyone will always get something different out of each one as well, which is what makes the originals and retellings interesting and at times, compelling to read and watch.
Using a minor character to retell the story, or tell their story is also interesting, as it gives insight into those, we did not get to explore these characters in the original. It also reveals an aspect of the society and story that was hinted at, and had Lizzy married Mr Collins, this would have been her life too. Though perhaps with a much different outcome after a while.
An interesting read, and one that is a great summer read.