“He was not an attractive young man; he was heavy of cheek and jowl, with slightly irregular features and thinning hair, and his manners were so awkward that it was hard, at times, to keep my countenance as he veered from unaccountable pomposity to slavish compliments.”
The Clergyman’s Wife is the first novel by American author, Molly Greeley. After her friend Lizzie Bennet rejected Mr Collins, twenty-seven-year-old Charlotte Lucas made sure to put herself in his path “when his pride was hurt and he was especially vulnerable to flattery” because she realised that she was (as Lady Catherine de Bourgh later put it) “neither too lively nor too handsome.” Being the clergyman’s wife would secure her future without dependence on the goodwill of her brothers.
Now, three years later, as wife of William and mother of baby Louisa, she began to understand what it is to be married to the man who fervently fawns at Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s every utterance. She had believed that enduring his company for the sake of security was something she could manage. But now his imperious patroness insists on a rose garden at the parsonage, and sends one of her tenant farmers to install it.
The farmer is neither handsome nor educated but, through her incidental interactions with Robby Travis, Charlotte discovers a man who is courteous, interested and has a sense of humour that is noticeably absent in her good husband. Aware that she does not share her whole self with William, she begins to wonder if perhaps he does not give himself fully either. “Perhaps we are both caught in this elaborate pantomime.” But with Mr Travis, it is as if he sees into her soul. Charlotte Collins, however, is a married woman...
Greeley easily evokes the world that Jane Austen’s characters inhabit, and her portrayal of characters we already know from Pride and Prejudice is very much in keeping with the way Austen wrote them. The events that punctuate their lives and the way they react to them is entirely plausible. This is a wonderfully moving debut novel that is bound to have readers choking up and reaching for the tissues in the final chapters.
This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Allen & Unwin.