Thursday 5 December 2019

The Clergyman's Wife by Molly Greeley - Blog Tour, Guest Post and Giveaway

Today I'm welcoming a debut author, Molly Greeley, who has written a book called The Clergyman's Wife. The wife in question is the former Miss Charlotte Lucas, who of course married Mr Collins in Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Let's look at the blurb and then we will hand over to Molly for a guest post about her thoughts about writing fiction based on other writer's characters, something that the Austenesque genre obviously does. We have a giveaway for US readers, too!

Book cover: The Clergyman's Wife - Molly Greeley (US cover)
Book Description

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.

Guest Post from Molly Greeley - Favorite Retellings

A friend recently argued with me that an author’s characters belong solely to her, and that she has the final word on their motivations and the meaning behind their story. People who see something different than what the author intended, or who take aspects of the original and branch off to create new stories, are, in my friend’s mind, doing the original story a disservice.

Like any sort of art, I see stories—as I guess must be obvious, given that I’ve written a continuation of a classic book—as contributions to a larger cultural conversation, one that involves a give and take between story teller and story reader. Sometimes changing times call for new versions of old tales; if we didn’t allow this, Walt Disney would not have adapted those dark, traditional folk tales for consumption by an audience eager for gentler interpretations (regardless of the oft-asked question of what is lost in the gentling); and Jean Rhys could not have posited that perhaps the madwoman in the attic in Jane Eyre was a fully-formed person with her own complex history of abuse and neglect, rather than a useful plot device. Turning stories over and around, viewing them through the lens of different characters, or different time periods, or taking what an author might have seen as a throwaway sentence and using it as the basis for a whole new story, is an absorbing exercise to me.

But then again, I’ve always been fascinated by retellings, particularly those that subvert the narrative of the original without actually changing any of the source’s details, or give voice to characters who were once voiceless. I love a good, dense, twisty plot as much as anyone, but it’s the characters who make me care about what happens, and as such, none of them are immune, to my mind, from close examination, even if they were peripheral to the original story.

Maybe I’m just nosy? I suppose that’s what it could be called, this compulsion to understand what’s going on in every character’s head. Or greedy—I can’t be satisfied with the official story from a set character’s perspective, I have to have more if it’s a story that feels compelling to me.

Either way, if you're as passionate as I am about retold stories, here are a few for all age groups that do a particularly lovely job of giving old tales a new life: *

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka - This, as far as I can recall, was my introduction as a child to the idea that—in literature and in life—there can be more than one side to a story. The thought had never once occurred to me that the villainous wolf might have his own experience to share.

The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman - A beautifully illustrated book for middle grade readers that mashes together two well-known fairy tales—Snow White and Sleeping Beauty—and creates something new, not only subverting expectations about the outward appearance of good and evil, but allowing a normally passive princess to be the hero and choose her own future.

Zel, by Donna Jo Napoli - Napoli is a master at rewriting fairy tales and other classic stories. Zel, her YA retelling of Rapunzel from three perspectives, does a beautiful job of humanizing Rapunzel’s mother while still keeping to the original tale’s basic plot points. It is by turns heartbreaking and hopeful.

The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley - McKinley is another writer who excels at retellings. Like the title suggests, this YA book is not merely Robin Hood’s story, it’s the story of all the men and women who come together in Sherwood Forest, and how a single man—in this telling, a very flawed, relatable, and reluctant hero—can be turned deliberately into a legend.

Mr. Rochester, by Sarah Shoemaker - Jane Eyre’s enigmatic love interest is given a fuller backstory in this beautifully written novel that seeks to explain how Edward Fairfax Rochester came to be the man Jane meets in the mist outside Thornfield Hall. Lovers of historical fiction will absolutely relish Shoemaker’s attention to detail, and readers of Jane Eyre will love the insight into the enigmatic Rochester’s difficult past.

Courting Mr. Lincoln, by Louis Bayard - A fictional retelling of the a specific time period in the life of one of America’s historical giants, Bayard takes a rumor about a romantic relationship and creates a beautiful, heartbreaking story about Abraham Lincoln told from the perspectives of two people who loved him: his wife, Mary Todd—rendered here with exquisite nuance—and his roommate, Joshua Speed.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker - A smart, thoughtful response to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Told by the servants rather than the original novel’s protagonists, which offers a new look at classic moments like Elizabeth Bennet getting her hem thoroughly muddy while out for a walk, this lovely book gives voices—along with backstories, motivations, dreams, and desires—to characters who were too far down the social ladder to be fully acknowledged in Austen’s work.

Peter Darling, by Austin Chant - A retelling of Peter Pan from the perspectives of both Captain Hook and a grown-up Peter, this is a nuanced love story and exploration of trans identity in which Peter Pan, when he’s not in Neverland, is trapped as Wendy Darling, and in which the line between hero and villain is a lot blurrier than in the original. Chant topples expectations every which way while still managing to stay true to the world J.M. Barrie created.

Circe, by Madeline Miller - This book has been on so many bestseller lists, it likely needs no introduction. I personally loved it for the gorgeous prose and the way Miller explored well-known myths though the eyes of a woman who was privy to quite a lot—from being Odysseus’ lover to turning Scylla into the monster so feared by sailors—but who was never fully given leave to tell her own story until now.

* This all comes with the caveat, of course, that all of the above novels (mine included) are retold from stories that are in the public domain. The ethics of fan fiction based on work that is still under copyright would require an entirely different essay to consider!

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I think I've only read one of these, and bizarrely it's the Three Little Pigs from the wolf's point of view! I've actually only heard of one of the others mentioned in detail, Longbourn by Jo Baker, but I haven't read that yet. I knew there was fiction inspired by Jane Eyre - the famous Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and several books about Rochester, but I hadn't particularly heard of this one. I could tell you of very many which are based on Austen's books, but I don't read that many outside of her characters. I think it's really interesting that Molly Greeley has read so many relating to different books!

Thanks so much to Molly's US publishers, William Morrow, for providing me with this guest post to share with you!

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Book cover: The Clergyman's Wife - Molly Greeley (US cover)Molly Greeley on The Clergyman's Wife

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 her choice for more than twenty years, ever since I first read Pride and Prejudice. Back then I was ten years-old, and with a child’s understanding of what I read, my first and strongest reaction when Charlotte chose to marry Mr. Collins was complete revulsion. Mr. Collins was gross, and worse, he was 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 not so much that she 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.

          Austen tells Charlotte’s story 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 bit calculating. But Elizabeth, as it turns out, is not actually the most astute judge of other people’s feelings 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 for the security Mr. Collins offered her to be genuinely pleased with her new life when Elizabeth visited in Pride and Prejudice—but what if security was not enough to make her truly happy in the long run? What if she finally fell in love? Some of my favorite books take 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.

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Author Molly Greeley
Author Bio

Molly Greeley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her addiction to books was spurred by her parents' floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. A graduate of Michigan State University, she began as an Education major, but switched to English and Creative Writing after deciding that gainful employment was not as important to her as being able to spend several years reading books and writing stories and calling it work. Her stories and essays have been published in Cicada, Carve, and Literary Mama.

​She lives in Traverse City, Michigan with her husband and three children, and can often be found with her laptop at local coffee shops.

Buy Links

Book cover: The Clergyman's Wife - Molly Greeley (US cover)
The Clergyman's Wife is available to buy now in ebook, paperback and audio via Amazon US, where it's published by William Morrow Paperbacks. It also looks to be available on Amazon CA.

Book cover: The Clergyman's Wife - Molly Greeley (ANZ cover)
It's also available in Australia and New Zealand, where it's published by Allen & Unwin - Amazon AUS.

Book cover: The Clergyman's Wife - Molly Greeley (UK cover)
We have to wait a little longer in the UK, where it's due to be published by Penguin towards the end of March 2020, however, you can pre-order it for kindle or in paperback - Amazon UK.

Wow! Three covers and they are all gorgeous!

You can add it to your Goodreads TBR shelf too.
Book cover: The Clergyman's Wife - Molly Greeley (US cover)
Giveaway Time!

William Morrow are kindly giving away a paperback of The Clergyman's Wife which one of you can win! To enter, just leave a comment on this blog post by the end of the day worldwide on Thursday 12 December. This giveway is open to US readers.

Note regarding comments: I love to read your comments, but a few blog visitors have reported difficulties in commenting while using the Safari browser. If you are unable to comment, please try using another web browser, such as Google Chrome, or please contact me and I will add your comment for you :)

Blog Tour Schedule

2 Dec - From Pemberly to Milton
3 Dec - Vesper's Place
3 Dec - vvb32reads
4 Dec - My Jane Austen Book Club
4 Dec - Confessions of a Book Addict
5 Dec - More Agreeably Engaged
5 Dec - Babblings of a Bookworm
6 Dec - Laura's Reviews
7 Dec - Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books
8 Dec - My Vices and Weaknesses
9 Dec - Living Read Girl
10 Dec - The Calico Critic
11 Dec - Austenesque Reviews
12 Dec - So Little Time...
13 Dec - cozynookbks
14 Dec - My Love for Jane Austen
14 Dec - vvb32reads

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  1. I have not read this one and appreciate the chance to win. It does sound interesting.

    1. Hope you enjoy it when you read it Sheila!

  2. I see a bit of Molly's friend's point about the author owning the characters and doing with them what they will, but I'm a retelling fiend and I love when author's vary, retell, focus on side characters or tell from another point of view.
    Good list. I've heard of half and read none of them yet. I'll have to add that 3 Little Pigs one.

    1. Hi Sophia. I understand the point of view, but I think as long as the characters are treated respectfully a variation or look at something that happens 'off page' is a huge compliment to how good a story and its characters are.

  3. You know, I'm not usually a Charlotte-story reader, but this looks really interesting. Congratulations on publishing and thanks for the blog post!

    1. I quite like a Charlotte story, although I think her story has scope to be a little sad, if she realises she has an alternative to Mr Collins too late!

  4. Reader-reponse theory is all about this--how the author releases control over her characters once the work is out in the world. Obviously for us, copyright law has to be followed, but there's lots of fan fiction for newer shows or books that's simply not published.

  5. I love when secondary characters get to shine. Congrats on the release and thank you for the giveaway!

    1. It's good to see other characters get a story of their own isn't it!

  6. interesting vista and plot twist--sounds intriguing


    1. I hope you enjoy this when you read it Denise!

  7. I always feel for Charlotte, though i understood her decision. I wonder if this is a story of a newly found affection outside of marriage?

    1. I have much the same views as you on this, Buturot. I don't feel very sorry for Charlotte in canon because she made her choice with her eyes open, but she made that choice not expecting she would ever find love. If she later did once she was already married, then I begin to feel sorry for her!

  8. I always feel for Charlotte, though i understood her decision. I wonder if this is a story of a newly found affection outside of marriage?

  9. I do like Charlotte stories, although I have to gear myself up for them because you always have the 'ick' factor of Mr. C. This story sounds like one I'll like.

    What an amazing answer to the question (usually rudely put) of why we read or write JAFF, or how we could do that to the original. I have that opinion on SOME releases of JAFF that have become increasingly available in recent years, (one particular sub-genre) but.... So, I would have to ask someone who brings that question up: 'Don't you do the same when you're discussing a movie you just saw with your group of friend?' You either wish the ending was done differently, you didn't like the actor they picked for the hero, etc., you think it was dated, unrealistic, or maybe even perfect. Anyway thank you so much for guest appearance, Molly and your discussion. Just fantastic.

    I've read Jo Baker's book and I recommend it. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, because it throws a poor light on some of our favorite characters. But I appreciated it for the reality of the main character's life.

    Michelle H

    1. This is such a great comment, Michelle. I absolutely agree. When I first heard of the concept of 'fanfiction' I thought it was disrespectful to the original author to be making money from another person's characters and creations. Unfortunately, there are books out there that do just that, draw people in and make a fast buck from it, without any attempt to refer to the original characters. However, there are also some excellent books which take an interesting original story and explore some side roads from the main story, in a respectful way.

  10. Great list of retellings! I have Zel, but have never read it. And I've read so many Austen retellings - although, I have not read Longbourn by Jo Baker. Lol.

    All the covers are beautiful, but I especially love the Australia/New Zealand cover! Congratulations on The Clergyman's Wife, Molly!

    1. I have Longbourn but haven't read it yet.

      Glad you enjoyed the covers, Candy. Sometimes I don't like covers much but this one has three beautiful covers. They are all lovely!


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