Books Magazine

The Clergyman's Wife Blog Tour - Guest Post + Excerpt

By Mariagrazia @SMaryG

THE CLERGYMAN'S WIFE BLOG TOUR - GUEST POST + EXCERPTABOUT THE BOOK
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.
REDISCOVERING CHARLOTTE
It took about a year of once-weekly writing sprints to finish my first novel, The Clergyman’s Wife, but the idea had been slowly germinating for a long time. I have, in fact, been thinking about Charlotte Lucas and herchoice for more than twenty years, eversince Ifirstread Pride and Prejudice. Back then Iwasten years-old, and with a child’s understanding ofwhatIread, my first and strongestreactionwhen Charlotte chose to marry Mr. Collins was complete revulsion. Mr. Collins was gross, andworse, hewas a little bit stupid. Someone like Charlotte, who was friends with Elizabeth Bennet and therefore must be intelligent,would be miserable married to him. I agreed completely with Elizabeth’s first reaction to the news of her friend’s engagement: Charlotte had made a terrible mistake. But time, and many subsequent readings, softened my take on Charlotte’s decision, and as I grew up, she became the character in Pride and Prejudice who fascinated me most, her choice to marry Mr. Collins less horrifying than the circumstances that led to it. 
Charlotte had neither money nor the means to earn any, and she had no beauty, which was, of course, its own form of currency. Even when she was young, the likelihood of attracting a husband equal to or above her in station was fairly slim, but as the years passed I imagined the constraints of her situation tightening around her like a net. The truly sad thing about Charlotte’s circumstances, I realized,was notso much thatshe married Mr. Collins but that she lived in a time when an intelligent, capable woman had only two choices: remain unmarried, and risk becoming a burden to her family, or accept the proposal of a man who could offer her security, even if he also happened to be a fool. 
Her story was all-too-common in Jane Austen's time: the woman who married the most practical choice available, because a woman's security, unless she was exceptionally fortunate, was always linked to the prosperity and generosity of the men in her life. The remarkable thing about Charlotte is that she set out to seduce Mr. Collins—not with her body, but with her attention and sympathy. Rather than wait passively for a man to notice her, she saw an opportunity and took it, and in doing so, she took charge of her own life in the only way available to her. I felt punched by the courage and, yes, selflessness of her decision, for in marrying the heir to Longbourn, she ensured that neither her parents nor her younger brothers had to worry about her future. We get so little of Charlotte’s inner world in Pride and Prejudice, and I wanted more. 
The remarkable thing about Charlotte is that she set out to seduce Mr. Collins—not with her body, but with her attention and sympathy. Rather than wait passively for a man to notice her, she saw an opportunity and took it, and in doing so, she took charge of her own life in the only way available to her. I felt punched by the courage and, yes, selflessness of her decision, for in marrying the heir to Longbourn, she ensured that neither her parents nor her younger brothers had to worry about her future. We get so little of Charlotte’s inner world in Pride and Prejudice, and Iwanted more. Austen tells Charlotte’sstory mostly from Elizabeth’s perspective, with a few interjections from the novel’s nameless narrator, and Charlotte seems, above all else,calm, practical, and more than a bitcalculating. But Elizabeth, asitturns out, is not actually the most astute judge of other people’sfeelings and motivations. So I started thinking: what if Charlotte was just good at making the best of things, even if she didn't feel as cheerful about them as she appeared? What if she was grateful enough forthe securityMr. Collins offered herto be genuinely pleasedwith her newlifewhen Elizabeth visited in Pride and Prejudice—but what if security was not enough to make her truly happy in the long run? Whatifshe finally fell in love? Some of my favorite bookstake well-known stories and delve into the minds and hearts of characters who were peripheral to the original. Charlotte has never felt peripheral to me; even as a child, I couldn’t read Pride and Prejudice without having a visceral reaction to her story. It’s a story about a woman’s worth, a woman’s place in society. It’s about mothers and daughters, because it’s impossible to imagine Charlotte’s own worry about her prospects as the years pass without also imagining the strangling fear her mother must have felt, too. And it’s about love, or lack thereof, and what place it would have had in the lives of women who did not have a man with ten thousand a year waiting to rescue them from the terrifying uncertainty of the future. Such women, like Charlotte, had to rescue themselves. 

Molly Greeley


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READ AN EXCERPT
Prologue
Autumn

Mr. Collins walks like a man who has never become comfortable with his height: his shoulders hunched, his neck thrust forward. His legs cross great stretches of ground with a single stride. I see him as I pass the bedroom window, and for a moment I am arrested, my lungs squeezing painfully under my ribs, the pads of my fingers pressed against the cool glass. The next moment, I am moving down the stairs, holding my hem above my ankles. When I push open the front door and step out into the lane, I raise my eyes and find Mr. Collins only a few feet distant. Mr. Collins sees me and lifts his hat. His brow is damp with the exertion of walking and his expression is one of mingled anticipation and wariness. Seeing it, the tightness in my chest dissipates. Later, when I have time to reflect, I will perhaps wonder how it is possible to simultaneously want something so much and so little, but in the moment before Mr. Collins speaks, as I step toward him through the fallen leaves, I am awash in calm. On the morning of my wedding, my mother dismisses the maid and helps me to dress herself. Lady Lucas is not a woman prone to excessive displays of emotion, but this morning her eyes are damp and her fingers tremble as she smooths the sleeves of my gown. It is only my best muslin, though newly trimmed at the bodice with lace from one of my mother’s old evening dresses. My father went to town the other day, returning with a few cupped hothouse roses, only just bloomed, to tuck into my hair this morning. He offered them to me, his face pink and pleased, and they were so lovely, so evocative of life and warmth even as winter grayed and chilled the landscape outside, that even my mother did not complain about the expense. “Very pretty,” my mother says now, and I feel my breath catch and hold behind my breastbone. I cannot recall having heard those particular words from her since I was a small child. I look at my reflection in the glass and there see the same faults—nose too large, chin too sharp, eyes too close together—that I have heard my mother bemoan since it became apparent, when I was about fourteen, that my looks were not going to improve as I grew older. But the flowers in my hair make me appear younger, I think, than my twenty-seven years; I look like a bride. And when I look into my mother’s face now, I find nothing but sincerity. My mother blinks too quickly and turns away from me. “We should go down,” she says. She makes for the door, then pauses, turning slowly to face me again. “I wish you every happiness,” she says, sounding as though she is speaking around something lodged in her throat. “You have made a very eligible match.” I nod, feeling my own throat close off in response, a sensation of helpless choking. I am largely silent during the long, rocking ride into Kent. My new husband speaks enough for both of us; he has an astonishing memory for minutiae and discusses the wedding ceremony in such great detail that I find myself wondering whether he remembers that I was also in attendance. We left for my new home directly from the church; my family and a few friends all crowded, shivering in their cloaks and muffs, outside the entrance, waving as we were driven away. Maria, my sister, cried as I left; my brothers looked solemn, my father beamed, my mother smiled a tremulous smile. My friend Elizabeth’s smile looked as if it had been tacked in place, like a bit of ribbon pinned to a gown but not yet properly sewn on. Mr. Collins’s awkward height is emphasized by the cramped conditions of the coach. His long legs stretch out before him as far as they can go, but he still appears to be uncomfortable. The hair at his temples is moist, despite the cold, and I have to glance hastily away, feeling a lurch in my stomach that has nothing to do with the jolting ride. He is very warm beside me in bed. I watch him sleep for a time, tracing the relaxed lines of his face with my eyes and thinking how different he seems without the rather frantic energy he exudes in his waking hours. There is a tension about him, much of the time, that I did not recognize until this moment, until sleep removed it. He introduced me when we arrived to the housekeeper, Mrs. Baxter, who is broad and pleasant, and to the gruff, graying manservant, John, whose powerful shoulders are built from years of labor. The parsonage itself is exactly as Mr. Collins described it: small, but neat and comfortable, with surrounding gardens that he assured me would be beautiful come spring. His eagerness to please me was matched by his inability to believe anyone might find fault with his home, and I found his manner at once endeared him to me and irritated me thoroughly. Throughout the tour, he pointed out improvements here and there that had been the suggestion of his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. There were rather a lot of them. At our bedchamber he paused with his palm against the door. “I hope . . . it suits,” he said, then opened the door and bowed me in. The room was much like the rest of the house: comfortably furnished, if a trifle small. “Charming,” I said, and pretended not to notice the flush on his cheeks. We ate dinner together. I had little appetite, despite the novelty of eating a meal in my own home that I had had no hand in preparing. Afterward, I considered suggesting we adjourn to the parlor but found I could not face the intervening hours between then and bed. Tomorrow I would unpack my books and my embroidery. I would write letters. I would meet Lady Catherine, for Mr. Collins assured me that lady had vowed to have us to tea when we returned to Kent; and I would begin to learn the duties of a clergyman’s wife. But tonight—I wanted only for tonight to be over. “I am tired,” I said. “I think I will retire early.” Mr. Collins rose from his chair with alacrity. “A fine idea,” he said. “It has been a long day.” And to my consternation, he followed me up the stairs, his footsteps behind me a reminder that it will forever be his right to do with me as he pleases. It is not so terrible, I think after, lying in the quiet dark watching my husband sleep. At my insistence, he allowed me time to change into my nightdress in private. And the rest was vaguely shocking, dreadfully uncomfortable, and far more mess than I had anticipated, but bearable. Mr. Collins, at least, seemed vastly pleased at the end, murmuring affectionate nonsense against my neck until he drifted off to sleep. I wake before dawn, and for a moment I imagine I am still at home. There is a presence beside me in the bed, warm and heavy against my back, and I think it is my sister, Maria, until it lets out a gusty snore against the nape of my neck. My eyes open and I find myself staring at an unfamiliar wall covered in delicate floral paper. 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 barest of instants. A moment later I force the stiffness from my body, allowing my spine to relax back against my husband’s chest. Exhaling the breath I had been holding, I wait for him to wake. I will, no doubt, grow accustomed to mornings begun beside William. This is, after all, the life I chose.ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Molly Greeley earned her bachelor’s degree in English, with a creative writing emphasis, from Michigan State University, where she was the recipient of the Louis B. Sudler Prize in the Arts for Creative Writing. Her short stories and essays have been published in Cicada, Carve, and Literary Mama.  She works as on social media for a local business, is married and the mother of three children but her Sunday afternoons are devoted to weaving stories into books.


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