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BOOK REVIEW: The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley

| 21 June 2020 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Clergyman’s Wife by Molly Greeley
Allen & Unwin
December 2019
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction Books / Modern & Contemporary Fiction

75% Rocking


The world doesn’t really need another novel inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. But Molly Greeley does such a good job of staying true to the characters and their lives in Regency England, that most readers will be willing to overlook this. Her debut novel is one that is told from the perspective of Charlotte Collins nee Lucas, and is a charming and genteel story.

I can have him [Mr. Collins], I thought with an odd detachment. It was not an idle hope; it was a certainty. I was capable of doing what Elizabeth was not. I could listen to this man without deriding him; I could endure his company and keep my composure. A little encouragement, a little attention – he needed these things, and if I gave them to him, I could have him, and all he had to offer, in return.

Those individuals who haven’t read Pride & Prejudice will not feel lost in this novel (although they may lose themselves in the immersive environment of this well-written text). While Greeley starts her story with the marriage between the awkward clergyman and the old maid who is neither lively nor too handsome, there are also some nice flashbacks recounting scenes from the original text. This includes Mr. Collins’ disastrous marriage proposal and rejection by Lizzie Bennet. The marriage of the latter to Mr. Darcy provides an interesting contrast to our current heroine’s predicament.

For a moment, I am held immobile by the weight of all the ways in which my life has changed. And then Mr. Collins – William – shifts in his sleep, one heavy arm reaching over my hip, his long fingers brushing my stomach, and I go rigid for the briefest of instants. A moment later I force the stiffness from my body, allowing my spine to relax back against my husband’s chest…
I will, no doubt, grow accustomed to mornings begun beside William.
This is, after all, the life I chose.

This story is a bittersweet one. Charlotte grapples with the sober realities of her pragmatic and passionless marriage. This idea is enforced as Charlotte befriends a local farmer named Mr. Travis. It is hard not to feel sad for Charlotte because in making his acquaintance, she finally has a man who appreciates her. They share some beautiful encounters and Charlotte begins to realise the errors of her ways.

Today we crested this hill together, walking so quickly that when we reached the top my breath was coming in great gasps; when I looked at Mr. Travis I was happy to see that he felt the exertion, as well. He caught my eye, and a slow grin spread across his face. I could feel my own smile answering his, and then suddenly we were laughing, for no reason at all.

Greeley’s prose is beautiful and this is an easy book to read. Austen’s fans will enjoy seeing Charlotte’s character more rounded out. It is also interesting to discover the fates of some of the Pride & Prejudice favourites not disclosed in the original novel. Greeley’s writing is evocative of the era and the scenarios do not feel out of place when considering the original text. Greeley is respectful of the original characters – Collins is still self-important and verbose, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh remains meddling and intolerable.

“Thank you, Lady Catherine.”
She inclines her head. “You are just the sort of person I like to see raised up a little in the world. You are modest and genteel, and unlike some ladies I could name, you haven’t such fixed opinions that you do not recognize sound advice when you hear it.”
There is nothing to say to this except “You are too kind, ma’am.”

This novel does not focus on Mr. Darcy and Lizzie Bennet, though they do feature here. Instead, Greeley’s spotlight is placed firmly on Charlotte, her husband, and their young daughter, Louisa. Greeley has reasoned that more women living during the 19th century found themselves in situations like Charlotte’s. Many were duty-bound and forced to marry for respectability. It’s great that Greeley captures Charlotte’s conflicting emotions, her practical side, as well as her inner frustrations at being married to a man she does not love.

For what can I tell Louisa but a lie? The truth is not an option.
“Your papa was refused by Mrs. Darcy,” I might say, were I being truthful. “So I contrived to put myself in his path when his pride was hurt and he was especially vulnerable to flattery.” Well, that will never do.

The Clergyman’s Wife is another novel that is a spin-off of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. While it was highly unlikely to eclipse that classic, Greeley does do a good job of continuing the story and telling it from a fresh perspective. This novel is ultimately an understated and emotional one about love, marriage, and its complexities.

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Category: Book Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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