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Molly Greeley’s “The Heiress”: Can you Make a Good Book Out of a Boring “Pride and Prejudice” Character?

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A card of Brock’s illustrations of Jane Austen’s Novel Pride and Prejudice, (some possibly touched up by his brother), circa 1885. E. Brock, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There seems to be no end to the different versions and spin offs from Jane Austen’s novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice.  P&P has two things going for it: 1. It’s extremely popular, and 2. It’s in the public domain.  That means that you can do pretty much anything you want to with the characters or the stories. 

 

Rather than revise the plot of P&P yet AGAIN, Molly Greeley has done something fairly interesting by focusing on some of the minor female characters in the novel.

 

Her first novel, The Clergyman’s Wife, recounts the story of Charlotte Lucas Collins, Elizabeth Bennet’s good friend who becomes her cousin through her marriage to the heir of Longbourne.  You might remember her because she marries Elizabeth’s cousin, heir to Longbourn, when Elizabeth turns him down.

 

The second of these novels is The Heiress, the story of Anne de Bourgh, the woman who was supposed to be Darcy’s wife. Are you scratching your head? Well, if you remember the section of the novel where Elizabeth goes to visit Charlotte, Anne de Bourgh is the daughter of Lady Catherine, who is memorable because she is so imperious and sticks her nose into every corner of Charlotte’s life. Anne, the daughter, is off to the side most of the time.

 

I found myself interested in reading this novel because Greeley writes about a character that Austen does not have much affection for.

 

The good thing that Greeley does is make the character sympathetic.  In an interesting twist, she ascribes Anne’s frailty to an addiction to laudanum, which is a medication containing opium. 

 

She also takes full advantage of the fact that P&P makes it clear that there is no entailment on Rosings, the de Bourgh’s family home, meaning that Anne can inherit the property from her father. 

 

I would argue, however, that Greeley goes astray in two areas: she does not develop Lady Catherine enough, or you could say, Greeley makes her too sympathetic.  Come on, this is a woman who kept her daughter drugged from infancy?  Totally out of misplace mother love? Hmph.

I also think Lady Catherine, as Austen writes her, is an interesting character in that she is in the unusual situation of having an estate that is not entailed to a male heir. Greeley explores, to a certain degree, how this situation gives Anne freedom, but not what it means for Lady Catherine.  

It’s also interesting that Greeley gives so little attention to Charlotte Collins, since Pride and Prejudice mentions that Anne and Charlotte did have a friendship.  Perhaps this omission is because Greeley has already dealt with Charlotte in her first novel.

What about the relationship between the once Pride and Prejudice character who marries out of convenience, or at least necessity, with no real thought of love, and one of the few who doesn’t need to? Charlotte Collins is the one character who falls “victim” to the terrible fate that confronts many Austen characters. A “terrible fate” that must have been reality for many Englishwomen, especially in the upper classes, at that time.

Seriously, it’s still reality for many couples today. In the Middle East, where I once lived, even upper middle class couples were expected to get engaged after about 2 months of dating, and an engagement involved a legal contract. I lived in one of the more liberal countries…there are still arranged marriages in many parts of the world.

I personally found the romance in The Heiress a bit predictable, but I suppose this is a romance novel. The situation requires an ending that is happy romantically that also keeps Anne in control of her inheritance.  So options are limited. 

Have said all of these negative things, the plot, hinging on 19th century drug use as it does, is engaging.  While Greeley manages to strike a tone reminiscent of Austen’s, her novels are quick reads that, despite its flaws, made me think.

So whether you are an Austen fan in need of a quick fix or a fan of romance in general or of the Regency period (or Bridgerton), you will find these books worth a read.

The Clergyman’s Wife

The Clergyman’s Wife is Greeley’s first spin off of Pride and Prejudice’s characters. I started reading it, and I have to say I don’t really think Greeley does Charlotte Collins justice at all. Her treatment of Charlotte is superficial: Greeley gives her minimal backstory and puts her into the path of a farmer. I would have been a lot more interested to see a development of Mr. Collins as a character and exploration of the relationship between the two as one that starts, no question, without love…but then, why does Mr. Collins go to Charlotte after Elizabeth’s refusal, rather than moving on to Mary Bennet, who it seems may have been a sensible match for him.

We could chalk it up to pride: Mr. Collins refuses to go to his second choice in the Bennet family, and under the circumstances, his attitude is fair.

But could it be that he also sees something in Charlotte?

Another thing Greeley seems to miss is that Charlotte has made herself a very good deal. Elizabeth Bennet may not want to think about it, but the fact is that in return for taking a husband that, well let’s say she probably needs to learn to love (although even that may be Elizabeth’s view more than Charlotte’s), and clearly the annoying manner of Lady Catherine, she will eventually take her place as mistress of Longbourne.

Elizabeth chooses not to go there: fine for her and lucky she gets Darcy in the end. But there is no question that Charlotte has actually made herself one heck of a match.

In short, Charlotte deserves more.

Pride and Prejudice

If you want to reread Pride and Prejudice, either go for a good-quality print edition with footnotes, such as the one below, or download a digital version of Pride and Prejudice from Project Gutenberg.

Click here for a detailed index of all of Austen’s works that are available at Project Gutenberg.

If you need help using Project Gutenberg, click here: How To Download FREE Books with Project Gutenberg and Why You Should

More about Jane Austen from The Lois Level

“Pride and Prejudice”: What was really going on in Elizabeth Bennett’s home, Longbourn? is about the very well written story of one of the servants in the Bennet home.

Jane Austen: Inventor of “Chick Lit” or Subversive Radical? is about a study of Jane Austen that will help you see the novels in a whole new way.

Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle”: What Jane Austen would have written in the 20th Century because this story never seems to go away.

Postscript: The Anne De Bourgh Rabbit Hole

As I was finishing this article, my search for an illustration led me into a most interesting rabbit hole: what exactly were the laws about women’s inheriting land?

Austen did not make it clear whether Catherine de Bourgh had inherited Rosing Park herself or was basically running it for her daughter…ostensibly because Anne was too sickly to run it herself. Of course, the question of Lay Catherine’s role in making Anne sickly is a key component of The Heiress, one I would say Greeley falls far short of fully exploring.

If you want to know more, check out this blog post, Dowries and Dowagers; or, Conjectures on Why Lady Catherine de Bourgh is So Rude, which will take you to this blog, which along with several other posts on Anne De Bourgh examines 19th Century British inheritance law in preparation for yet another treatment of Anne de Bourgh’s past, featured below.

Note: At this writing, Cousin Anne is available through Kindle Unlimited.

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