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  • Writer's pictureSara Bond

Pairings Project: THE CLERGYMAN'S WIFE by Molly Greeley

TLDR; THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE is a careful, compassionate, and circumspect tale of a woman’s life and the choices that she makes to change or preserve it.

“I long ago determined to live my life not in noisy discontentment but in quiet acceptance.” That line in the final pages of Molly Greeley’s THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE echoes a line in the prologue: “This is, after all, the life I chose.”

The themes of choice, acceptance, and finding contentment in one’s life are confronted head on by Charlotte Collins, the new wife of Clergyman Mr. Collins, cousin to Elizabeth Bennett and heir to Longbourn, the Bennett estate at the heart of so much turmoil in Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. Greeley’s book is a worthy successor to Austen’s most popular novel, and in many ways expands and improves on the story. While P&P focused on Elizabeth Bennett, a woman largely at odds with her society and constantly in turmoil about how to exist inside the strictures placed on her role in her community, THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE lends its narrative voice to a character who was sometimes scorned and often misunderstood by Austen’s acolytes.

In Greeley’s hands, Charlotte is a reserved, circumspect, and yet still passionate character. Over the course of the novel she is a devoted wife, a more devoted mother, and oft conflicted young woman. She understands the roles she has taken on—that of a parishioner’s wife, a shepherd to her community, a young mother and a wife to a man she doesn’t yet love but might possibly learn to—, and she commits to the duties those roles entail.

Still, Charlotte chafes at her chosen life’s restrictions. She is determined to do right by the lot she has in life, but she wonders if there could be more. She didn’t marry for love as her impetuous cousin did. She chose a safe life, with a reliable and kind man, and if he doesn’t stir her passions, he never gives into his own either. Mr. Collins is reliable, steady, a good provider, and someone she can always trust to protect her. For a woman of her time with no standing and no money to speak of, Charlotte does exceptionally well, to the delight of her family.

That she still longs for something more is hardly inexcusable.

She meets a young man who makes her feel more alive, who listens to and understands her in a way that her husband cannot. She is unprepared for someone that speaks to her heart in such a profound way, and how she deals with the juxtaposition of her choices and her new desires gives readers a story that needles at a lot of the assumptions we make about the roles we play in our own lives.

Author Greeley allows us to experience Charlotte’s desperate frustration and boredom and longing for something she doesn’t dare give voice to. We feel her impatience as her husband drones about gardening, we ride her waves of grief and delight at her attempts to bear children, and we follow her indirect path to finding what she truly wants out of her life.

I will admit, at times I grew frustrated with Charlotte’s choices. Why wouldn’t she just throw off her society’s restrictions? Speak her mind? Flout convention like her cousin and infuriate everyone but get her way eventually? But then that would be another PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and this book stands on its own. Charlotte is smart and certain and as strong as the heroines that Austen inspired; but she is her own woman, too. She does not always make the choices I want her to make, but she is as in control of her own life as she can or chooses to be. I fell in love with Charlotte’s quiet dignity, her compassionate heart, and her deep longings for something more. She speaks to that always present ‘what if?” that every person carries with them, and Greeley does a masterful job of carrying that question through to a conclusion that feels right.

TLDR; THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE is a careful, compassionate, and circumspect tale of a woman’s life and the choices that she makes to change or preserve it.

COCKTAIL PAIRING: The Abbey Cocktail

I’ll be honest, I picked the Abbey Cocktail for THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE before I even read the book. I was looking for another cocktail for a different Jane Austen-inspired book, and stumbled across this one. The name seemed perfect for an Austen book, with a solid nod to NORTHANGER ABBEY and a clean base of gin and fortified wine. While the cocktail didn’t ultimately fit the other book I was reviewing (THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, if you must know. You can find its review and pairing here.), I thought it might go for a more traditional Austen-style book.

I was right! THE CLERGYMAN’S WIFE requires a clean taste, a straightforward flavor profile, and something that is easy to drink. The book is sweet, respectable, and has a whole lot of complication swirling underneath. The Angostura of the Abbey Cocktail together with the Lillet and orange really have a depth to them that you might not expect. I really enjoy how well this worked out.

I present The Abbey Cocktail.

The Abbey Cocktail

1.5 oz gin 0.75 oz Lillet Blanc 0.75 oz fresh orange juice 2 dashes Angostura bitters Shake together with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

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