Book Review: The Clergyman’s Wife

The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley is one of the best adaptations of a Jane Austen book that I have read. The main character is Charlotte Lucas; the book imagines her life after she married Mr. Collins. In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte’s decision is a practical one. She tells Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home.”[1]

Greeley does an excellent job portraying the limited choices available to women like Charlotte who remains unmarried at 27 and is not a beauty. The fact that Mr. Collins is gainfully employed as a minister and has a wealthy woman, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as a benefactor probably would have been enough to make him a good catch. However, his prospects which include being the heir to Longbourn really sealed the deal.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is Greeley’s expansion of the Greeley back story. The knighting of Mr. Lucas was not a complete blessing. The Lucas family was better off, financially when he owned a haberdashery shop. The family’s social elevation reduced the marriage options for both Charlotte and Maria.

The plot involves Charlotte forming a friendship with a local farmer, Mr. Travis. Through this friendship, she gains a better sense of what a marriage built on love and mutual interests might be like. Charlotte also realizes that this was not ever a viable option for her.

In the other good adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn, by Jo Baker, Mrs. Bennett dies, and Mr. Bennett lives into old age. In that book, the entail of Mr. Bennett’s estate is not discussed. Because Charlotte is Greely’s heroine, the entail becomes a plot point in The Clergyman’s Wife.

After Charlotte has been married for several year, lost a child at birth and has a young daughter, Mr. Bennett dies. The estate at Longbourn now belongs to Mr. Collins. The inheritance requires the Collins to leave Hunsford and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It also means that Charlotte and Mr. Travis must part.

In Pride and Prejudice, Charlotte makes a practical choice which Elizabeth disparages. Elizabeth has a much happier outcome when she marries Mr. Darcy. The Clergyman’s Wife has a more realistic ending for Charlotte and by inference many women in the early 19th century. In the end Charlotte’s need to have both love and economic security remains unmet.

[1] Jane Austen, The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard.

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