THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE
A Pride & Prejudice Novel
For everyone who loved Pride and Prejudice—and legions of historical fiction lovers—an inspired debut novel set in Austen’s world.
Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, is the respectable wife of Hunsford’s vicar, and sees to her duties by rote: keeping house, caring for their adorable daughter, visiting 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.
For everyone who loved Pride and Prejudice—and legions of historical fiction lovers—an inspired debut novel set in Austen’s world.
Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, is the respectable wife of Hunsford’s vicar, and sees to her duties by rote: keeping house, caring for their adorable daughter, visiting 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’ 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.
- William Morrow Paperbacks
- December 2019
- 304 Pages
“Greeley’s attention to historical detail and her astute characterization as she adeptly uncovers nuances of character in both Charlotte and her husband . . . feel fresh while also ringing true to [Jane] Austen’s writing. . . Fans of other Austen spinoffs . . . will devour this thoughtful, moving, readable debut.” – Booklist
“The Clergyman’s Wife is a poignant, pensive, and brilliant exploration of women’s lot in early nineteenth-century England and how one woman rose to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” – Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It
“The Clergyman’s Wife is a compelling, beautifully rendered view into the soul of Pride and Prejudice’s Charlotte Collins, and into the bittersweet realities of the life of compromise she chose when she married for security rather than love. Molly Greeley manages to tell Charlotte’s story in a refreshingly contemporary style while at the same time keeping the reader’s feet firmly planted in a time gone by.” – Shannon Winslow, author of The Darcys of Pemberley
“Greeley debuts with a delightful yet poignant historical inspired by Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice, from the pragmatic point of view of Charlotte Collins, a friend of Elizabeth Bennet’s who married one of Elizabeth’s cast-off suitors. With tight prose and expert characterization, Greeley easily draws readers into the world she’s created while largely staying true to Pride and Prejudice’s original plot. Ideal for fans of Austen’s work, Greeley’s strong debut also stands on its own.” – Publishers Weekly
1. Where do you stand on Charlotte’s much-discussed decision to make “a very eligible match,” as her mother puts it? Is she exercising agency and practicality, or making a terrible mistake by giving in to social pressure and fear of spinsterhood? What other paths might she have chosen?
2. “I found his manner at once endeared him to me and irritated me thoroughly,” Charlotte admits about Mr. Collins. Did you, the reader, find him endearing or irritating? Both? Something else?
3. In the extremely rigid class system of eighteenth-century England, the Lucas family became upwardly mobile with mixed results: “I came to see my father’s knighthood as less boon than burden; though it elevated the circles in which we moved—thereby elevating my own and my siblings’ chances at rising still farther—these chances often felt insubstantial . . . paired as they were with a lack of money.” Would the Lucases have been better off staying in the merchant class, living more prosperously thanks to their father’s successful shop? If he had not been knighted, what would that have meant for Charlotte’s marriage prospects in Meryton?
4. When Charlotte admits she cannot think of any men besides Mr. Bennet who read novels for pleasure, Mr. Travis replies, “But certainly there are many men who do read novels. Indeed, a great many novels are written by men; it seems reasonable to assume that other men read them.” What did you make of this? What do you think Charlotte’s creator, Jane Austen, would have said about that?
5. “It is hard to think well of men when they so obviously do not think well of you,” Charlotte reflects, when she first met Mr. Collins. Do any of the men in this novel seem to think well of women? Does her husband ultimately come to think well of her? What qualities of hers does he value? Which does Mr. Travis value?
6. When Maria, the younger and prettier of the Lucas daughters, chose to marry for love rather than upward mobility, Lady Lucas tells Charlotte that Maria “will never live up to our hopes for her now, and that’s a fact.” Did Maria make the right decision? Why does Maria defy her family’s aspirations and happily choose to stay in the merchant class? How will her marriage be different from her parents’ or her sister’s?
7. The heartbreaking story of Charlotte’s first child, Lucas, was all too common for women in the eighteenth century. How does that experience haunt her? How does Charlotte’s experience of motherhood compare with the grim story of the widowed Mrs. Fitzgibbon and her six lost
children; or Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who obsessively hovers over her only living child?
8. Charlotte tells Mr. Travis, “Not everyone has the luxury of waiting until love comes along.” Do you think their friendship made her reevaluate her choices? Would she truly have married a farmer rather than make “a very eligible match” with someone of greater means and status? Should Charlotte have waited longer? Would you have?
9. Will Charlotte, with her plans to economize and carefully steward the estate at Longbourn, be a better manager than the late Mr. Bennet? How do her history and personality make her better suited to the job, even though she is a woman and far less educated than its previous master?
10. At the end of the novel, Charlotte says of her daughter, Louisa, “I will tell her, someday, about how I was brave; and when she is old enough, I will tell her that she needn’t sell herself as cheaply as I did. That she must recognize her own worth, whatever others say.” Do you think Charlotte regrets her decision to marry Mr. Collins?
11. What do you think the future holds for Charlotte and her family? What will her life be like at Longbourn? Where do you see the characters in this novel in ten years? In twenty years?
Spring, Three Years Later
I stand at the window in my parlor looking out over the rear gardens. From here, I can see William’s beehives and the flower beds just waking from their winter rest. Gravel paths meander throughout the garden; to the right, they curve toward the hedgerows, and onward toward the lane, and to the left, they bend around the side of the house toward the kitchen garden, and the pen where the pig lives, fattening, and the dusty ground where the chickens peck and squawk.
Behind me on my writing desk, a fresh piece of paper sits ready. The salutation at the top—Dear Elizabeth—has been dry for some time. I never feel the quiet uniformity of my life as fully as when I am trying to compose a letter to my friend. Eliza’s own letters are full of amusing stories about her neighbors, both in Derbyshire and in London; her life seems full to bursting with her husband, her son, her estate, and her rounds of parties and social calls.
Society here in Hunsford is limited, even by the standards of one who spent her girlhood in modest Meryton. Besides the de Bourghs there is only one truly genteel family with whom we socialize, and though William claims to be comfortable in all circles, he prefers to be among people whose station in life equals, or exceeds, his own; and so we spend much of our time at home, and much of that is spent apart, William keeping mostly to his book room and the garden, and I to my parlor and the nursery. This does not usually bother me, for it is easy to fill my hours with things that need doing. There is always the menu to plan, the accounts to balance, the kitchen garden to tend. I embroider a great deal more than I used to, and my designs have improved, I think. But descriptions of embroidery do not an amusing letter make.
This afternoon, we are expected at Rosings Park for tea. Perhaps, I think with a touch of hopefulness, Lady Catherine will share some wisdom that Elizabeth might appreciate.
THE DRAWING ROOM at Rosings Park is silent but for the sound of the pendulum clock, which marks the passing of the seconds. I sit, teacup cradled in my hands. Beside me, William clasps his hands together tightly as if to keep himself from fidgeting, something Lady Catherine cannot abide.
The lady in question is dozing openmouthed in her chair. She has been asleep for nearly a quarter hour. I am tired as well, so tired that I yawn, the opulence that surrounds me blurring into a haze of gleaming wood and gilding. I catch William’s repressive glance as I cover my mouth with the back of one hand.
Miss Anne de Bourgh and her companion murmur together beside the hearth, too far away for William and me to partake in their conversation. The fire blazes strongly, too strongly for the warm spring day, yet Miss de Bourgh wears a heavy shawl. Her companion, Mrs. Jenkinson, by contrast, appears flushed from the heat, though as ever she is uncomplaining.
I shift subtly to stretch my aching shoulders and try to hold in another yawn. Chock, chock, chock goes the pendulum. I sip my tea, which is now tepid; stare down at the leaves settled in the bottom of my cup; and read the tedium of the next few hours there.
A muffled snort; I look up to find Lady Catherine looking around the room in apparent befuddlement. She slipped inelegantly downward while she was asleep, and now she pushes herself upright, fingers fixed clawlike around the arms of her chair. Her eyes dart from me to William and back again; from the corner of my own eye, I can tell that he is avoiding her gaze, his head tipped back as though he is studying the large portrait of her late husband, Sir Lewis, which hangs on the wall behind her. I return my own gaze to my teacup. At times, William shows surprising wisdom.
“Play, Mrs. Jenkinson,” Lady Catherine says abruptly. “It is too quiet.”
Mrs. Jenkinson startles, interrupted, it seems, midsentence. Miss de Bourgh presses her lips together and looks at the fire as her companion rises to her feet and moves to the pianoforte, where she sits and fumbles through the sheets of music to find a song.
Lady Catherine makes a sound of annoyance. “I hope your daughter will outgrow her ill temper,” she says, turning to me. Her voice, forceful under any circumstances, seems especially startling as it breaks the silence; Mrs. Jenkinson jumps a little on her stool. “Anne told me she could hear her wailing away when she took her drive past your home yesterday.”
For a long moment, I keep myself very still. I think of Louisa crying for me as William and I left the parsonage to come to Rosings; she squirmed miserably in Martha’s arms as I kissed her head and walked through the door.
Mrs. Jenkinson begins to play, and Miss de Bourgh looks up. Her eyes meet mine just briefly, and then she looks away.
“Louisa has a happy disposition much of the time, Lady Catherine,” I say at last. “But I believe she is cutting her first tooth, and it is making her a little fractious.”
Lady Catherine sniffs. “Anne was never so disruptive,” she says. “Dr. Grant recommended a solution that kept her very quiet; her nurse said it was a marvel. You must ask him about it.”
I hold my tongue, actually hold it between my teeth, as William bobs his head, though my mind is filled with frantic thoughts. My eyes stray to Miss de Bourgh, to her hollow cheeks and the sharply delineated bones at her wrists.
“Indeed we shall, Your Ladyship,” William says. “Your advice, as ever, is both timely and sensible—”
“Yes, yes,” Lady Catherine says, waving a hand, and then she raises her voice slightly. “You play with so little feeling, Mrs. Jenkinson,” she says; Mrs. Jenkinson’s shoulders jerk, and I look down at my lap.
“ROSES!” WILLIAM SAYS over dinner. He slurps a spoonful of soup and I glance away until he speaks again. “Such condescension on the part of her ladyship. I never expected this—did you, my dear?”
I take a sip of my wine before answering. “No, I did not.”
There are, we learned today at tea, to be roses at the parsonage. The garden wants improving, Lady Catherine said, and nothing but roses will do to add the necessary elegance to the house’s prospect from the lane. William, of course, was gratified by his patroness’s interest and made certain to tell her so, at great length.
“And to think,” he says now, around a mouthful of bread, “that she even considered the delicacy of the plants—for roses, I understand, are very temperamental. That she has not only purchased them but insists upon sending someone to plant them properly and instruct me in their care—she is munificence itself.”
“Indeed. As always.”
He pauses delicately, then says, “Do you recall in which spot her ladyship said the roses were to be planted?”
“Near the road, past the hedgerow path.” I can only assume Lady Catherine wishes them to be visible to all who pass.
“Ah. Yes. I thought so.” William blinks a little too rapidly. Then he shakes his head and dips his spoon once more into his bowl.
I watch him for a moment. “Did you have other plans for that space?”
“I . . . Well.” I feel a pang of sympathy at the sight of his bemused expression. “It is of no consequence,” he says at last. “I thought perhaps to put a new bed of . . . But her ladyship is very good to take such an expense upon herself, to adorn our humble abode so extravagantly. Roses!” he says again, and slurps his soup.