Wednesday, March 11, 2020

39. The Clergyman's Wife

The Clergyman's Wife: A Pride and Prejudice Novel. Molly Greeley. 2019. 304 pages. [Source: Library] [adult historical; adult fiction; women's fiction; Austen adaptation]

First sentence: Mr. Collins walks like a man who has never become comfortable with his height: his shoulders hunched, his neck thrust forward.

Premise/plot: This historical romance is a Pride and Prejudice retelling starring Charlotte and Mr. Collins. It has been several years since the two wed, are the two well suited? Is Charlotte happy?

Every novel—for whatever reason, for better or worse—has to have tension or an obstacle. In this retelling, Charlotte has an affair of the heart and mind with a local farmer who has been hired to plant roses in their garden. He is one of the tenants—him and his elderly father, the former gardener of Rosings.

This affair consists of actually honest and heartfelt conversations. They smile. They laugh. Her daughter is present. Nothing shockingly flirty, or even slightly flirty. But Charlotte exposes her very soul to a man not her husband. There is no shell, no pretense. Mr. Collins remains a stranger to her soul, to who she actually is, to what she thinks, feels, enjoys, wants.

My thoughts: I actually liked most of this one—mostly. I liked the strong friendship between the two. I know we’re supposed to want it to be more, that we are supposed to see them as soulmates. But I don’t. I think her friendship reveals her loneliness in her present circumstances, but she could find companionship and honesty in other places. Now that she has been vulnerable once, she can be vulnerable again.

I hated one scene where Charlotte dares to imagine what it would be like to have this farmer touch her, hold her, etc. I felt it was icky for lack of a better word. After this she seems to realize that her innocent connection—human to human, friend to friend—isn’t quite appropriate. Which is a bittersweet realization.

I thought the novel ended on a hopeful note. Not an obvious one, I think it requires imagination and optimism. The ending is just an ending—not happy, not sad, not tragic, just the ending of one chapter in their lives before the turning of a page. Their story is far from over.

I personally think there is an opportunity in their new circumstances and situation for growth and improvement. If they are not living next door to you know who and being kept at her beck and call. If she is not scrutinizing every second, every minute, every hour of their days, perhaps patterns can change, the two can relax, the two can relate a bit more to one another. We have never really seen Mr. Collins not being bossed around and obsessively preoccupied with pleasing Lady Catherine.

What would a relaxed Mr. Collins look like? If he was, you know, being himself?! We get a glimpse of an honest Charlotte. I have to believe that some of Mr. Collins’ behaviors, habits, tendencies are a shell, a pretense. He wants to please, needs to please, has to please. What is driving this need? Is it fear? Is it shame? Is it doubt? Does Mr. Collins like himself? What does he feel? Is he comfortable with his feelings?

It would be easy to assume that Mr. Collins is beyond redemption. He will live every day of his life being oblivious and obnoxious. But that caricature which is very Austen, isn’t actually fleshed out and dimensional. He was in Pride and Prejudice for a laugh. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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