Friday, December 13, 2019

Review: The Clergyman's Wife by Molly Greeley

I don't remember how old I was when I first read Pride and Prejudice. It seems as if it has always been a part of my reading history, claiming a piece of my young, voracious reader's romantic heart forever ago. It is one of the few books I've read multiple times and just claiming a passing resemblance to it will have me eagerly reading any book. A book that delves deeper into any of the characters from this beloved book will automatically hit my must read pile. The Bennet sisters are usually the focus of these stories because Austen gives us very little about their lives after the events of her novel. Greeley doesn't give us a Bennet sister though, concentrating on Charlotte Lucas and the life she lives as Mrs. Collins, the life she chose, a life in direct contrast to the life that Lizzie Bennet would have, and she gives it to us beautifully.

"Sensible [and] intelligent" Charlotte famously opted for security and a conviction that happiness in marriage is not simply a result of love but of "chance" when she accepted Mr. Collins' proposal. She knew that her options were limited, from an age and beauty perspective as well as a class perspective, and she judged that Mr. Collins was a decent man with whom she could build a life. And she has done just that. Three years into their marriage, Charlotte's life is not a bad one but it is a lonely one. She spends much of her time with her tiny daughter, never having gotten too involved in the village near Rosings Park. Lady Catherine would disapprove heartily of too much involvement and Charlotte herself has no confidence in herself as the wife of the vicar, to offer friendship and caring to those under her husband's purview. Only when Lady Catherine determines that there should be roses planted in front of the parsonage and compels a local farmer, Mr. Travis, the son of her former gardener, to plant them, does Charlotte venture into a cautious friendship with anyone in the area. As she comes to know Mr. Travis, she contrasts him with her own husband and finds that her choice three years ago might well have been the pragmatic one but it also means that she might have missed out on something quite special and indefinable indeed.

Greeley's Charlotte is quiet, accepting the life she chose with her eyes wide open. If she experiences any rebellions, they happen silently and she often reflects on the ungenerosity of wishing Mr. Collins was different, reminding herself that he is, in fact, a good man. As so much of the novel is internal, Charlotte is a first person narrator, heightening the feeling of wistfulness and melancholy throughout the pages. The story, and Charlotte's slow dawning realization of what her life will always look like, what she has missed out on, is a sensitive and light handed look at the options available to women of the time. It is heartbreaking to hear Charlotte wishing that her baby daughter Louisa will be beautiful as she herself is not. And it is hard not to sympathize with Charlotte and the stultifying daily existence she lives, her only company a husband she doesn't love, a daughter too young to talk, and a young mother's helper. It is both hard and beautiful to see her opening her heart to the people of the parish, a poor, older widow, the elderly former gardener at Rosings, and Mr. Travis. This is a gentle tale that stays true to the characters that Austen created but that adds to the original story in Pride and Prejudice, offering a contrast to the exultant happily ever after of that novel, not of a grand tragedy but of a quiet and a little bit sad acceptance of a regular life. Well done, Molly Greeley.

For more information about Molly Greeley and the book, check our her author website, like her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book. #theclergymanswife, @williammorrowbooks, @tlcbooktours, @mollyjgreeley

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book to read and review.

1 comment:

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