The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley

I can have him, I thought with detachment.’

Readers of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen will remember Charlotte Lucas. And, in this novel, Charlotte Collins (née Lucas) is the central character.  She has married William Collins, after he was rejected by Lizzie Bennet, and is conscientiously trying to fit within the socially acceptable boundaries of being the clergyman’s wife.  She and William and their daughter Louisa live at Hunsford, where William barely breathes without taking advice from Lady Catherine de Burgh.

‘Our lives are all arranged according to Lady Catherine’s whims.’

Lady Catherine decides that roses must be planted near the vicarage, and Mr Travis (a local farmer and tenant of Lady Catherine’s) is tasked with the job of planting them.   Charlotte makes his acquaintance, at first by accident.   This is dangerous territory for Charlotte: Mr Travis listens to Charlotte and appreciates her as a person.  For the first time she feels alive and valued. But Charlotte’s life is one of duty, observing social convention and conforming.

‘This is, after all, the life I chose.’

One of my friends recommended this novel to me, and I’m glad she did.  I’m wary of Jane Austen spin-off novels, but Ms Greeley invests time in the setting as well as in Charlotte’s role as a clergyman’s wife.  You certainly don’t need to have read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ to enjoy this novel, but if you have you may well enjoy it more.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith