by Brenda S. Cox
“I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home” –Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice
“I did not set out to become a parson’s wife. . . . I suppose sometimes all it takes is for the providence of God to bring two people into the same room at just the right time.”—Charlotte Lucas, in Amanda Kai’s Marriage and Ministry
One wonderful thing about Jane Austen’s works is that the characters are very real, but there are so many different directions they could go and so many things that aren’t spelled out. As Austen Variations author Abigail Reynolds said in a recent talk, JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) writers get to fill in “the empty spaces.” (She speculates in this talk about various questions left open in Pride and Prejudice; I don’t always agree with her but she has some intriguing ideas.)
Laura Hile and Amanda Kai take Charlotte Lucas in totally different directions. We know that Charlotte did not consider herself “romantic.” But both authors think that could change! Both also see her as a woman who prays and loves God, and asks for God’s direction. And they give her happy endings.
I just devoured Laura Hile’s new novel in two days, so let’s start with that one.
So This is Love: An Austen-Inspired Regency, by Laura Hile
In Laura Hile’s So This is Love, Charlotte soon realizes her error in getting engaged to Mr. Collins. She didn’t pray about it or ask God for direction. And, he frightens her by trying to take advantage of her before they are even married. She breaks off her engagement, and leaves Meryton in shame.
Charlotte heads off to visit her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Allen. (Yes, we know them from Northanger Abbey!) She hopes to be useful as Mrs. Allen’s companion, or else become a schoolteacher. On her way to her uncle’s house, she gets held up by highwaymen and romantically rescued (yes, it’s a romance). Mrs. Allen wants to set Charlotte up with James Morland, who is getting over his previous rejection by Isabella Thorpe.
No more spoilers, but clear-headed Charlotte does fall deeply in love with a good man. They of course face various trials. For example, Mr. Collins threatens to sue for breach of promise, and Charlotte’s family is attacked by scarlet fever.
Both Charlotte and her man are people of faith. In understated, natural ways, they pray, read Scripture, and seek God’s will. They of course go to church (as all Austen’s characters do, though we may not notice), and they do good for others.
This is a clean romance that gives Charlotte her well-deserved happily ever after. Even Mr. Collins finds the right wife. The novel is well-written and entertaining. Readers get surprises, Regency holidays, a dance, and scenes at the beach (also the highwaymen!). What more do you want? (Available on Kindle Unlimited.)
Favorite Quotes from Hile’s So This is Love
“Trouble finds me of its own free will. Like St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh, trouble is God’s way of keeping me humble.”
“I suppose the ending of my story belongs to God. I might as well risk being blown off a cliff.”
“And what fine trust in God’s care and sufficiency! Instead of relying on Him, she had run straight to a man.”
Laura Hile, of course, has delighted us before with Darcy By Any Other Name and the Mercy’s Embrace series, reviewed earlier.
Marriage and Ministry: A Pride and Prejudice Novel, by Amanda Kai
Amanda Kai gives Charlotte Lucas a very different happy ending. In Marriage and Ministry, Charlotte does pray about marrying Mr. Collins, and feels that God answers her when he shows up in the lane. They both grow to love each other. As Mrs. Collins, Charlotte develops a heart for ministry and pursues service to the outcasts of society, despite Lady Catherine’s opposition. Mr. Collins himself changes and grows as a person and as a Christian. The novel’s point of view switches between Charlotte and Mr. Collins, giving a nice balance without being repetitive.
In this version, Charlotte is a “serious” Christian, as they would have said at the time. She knows and studies the Bible, and tries to apply it to her life. She shares her faith, when appropriate, and stands up for what she thinks is right.
Mrs. Collins first starts a Sunday school, a popular type of ministry at this time. Sunday schools taught poor children to read, as well as the basics of religion. Then she stirs up a hornet’s nest by befriending a prostitute and starting a Bible study with some “fallen women.” When Anne de Bourgh gets involved, and when the brothel-owner attacks Charlotte, major trouble starts. Lady Catherine calls in the bishop to examine Mr. and Mrs. Collins. You’ll have to read the book to see how it all turns out!
Kai delights us with tie-ins to the original Pride and Prejudice. We have a fun nod to the movies when Elizabeth is visiting Charlotte. Charlotte jokes that Elizabeth will find someone very romantic, who will propose to her in a garden folly in the rain! But Elizabeth thinks it’s more likely she’ll be sitting alone and a man will barge in and propose very awkwardly.
Kai’s Mrs. Collins has an Evangelical perspective, though the word evangelical isn’t used. Some Evangelical ministers were shaking up the Church of England around this time, so it is a possibility.
After the wedding, there are a couple of scenes implying the couple’s physical relationship. One is introduced by a reading from the Song of Solomon. But they’re not too explicit.
I appreciate the spiritual themes, excellent character development, and intriguing plot of this novel. Also I like the deeper take on what being a clergyman’s wife was all about. That role was about to change, and Kai shows the changes that were coming. Jane Austen’s friend Mrs. Lefroy, a real-life clergyman’s wife, might very well have been of one mind with Kai’s Charlotte Lucas. For these reasons, I think the novel is well worth reading, and I recommend it to you. (Available on Kindle Unlimited.)
Favorite Quotes from Kai’s Marriage and Ministry
Miss de Bourgh spoke up. “I could not fathom a world without chocolate!” Anne de Bourgh takes a more active, independent role in this novel.
“By Mr. Collins’ descriptions of you, I was expecting a spring chicken. I trust your maturity may be an asset though, for as you know, the wife of a rector is responsible for many things, including maintaining relations with the parishioners and raising well-behaved model children.” –Lady Catherine lectures Mrs. Collins on her responsibilities.
“Lady Catherine is by far the rudest woman I have ever met! In the course of one evening, she called me old, insinuated that I was fat, and implied that I have a poor complexion!” Charlotte complained” (to her husband). Good to see Charlotte standing up for herself, at least in private!
Near the end of the book: “Well, Lady Catherine will always be Lady Catherine,” William shrugged, “but there is always hope for change, as long as she lives. We all are given many chances to repent of our ways, to grow, to improve, all the way until the end of our lives.”
What do you think the role of a minister’s wife should be? People have a wide range of ideas on this today. Many in Austen’s England saw being a clergyman as a job like any other, rather than a calling with responsibilities to God. And his wife just needed to be a Christian like anyone else. I’m currently working on my book chapter on the clergy’s calling. Do you see evidences in Austen’s novels of clergy and their wives who saw their work as a high calling? Mansfield Park, of course, has the most obvious thoughts on this topic. Do you see others? If so, please share them with me below!
Other Posts on Jane Austen Variations
Christian Jane Austen Variations 1: Maria Grace, Robin Helm
Christian Jane Austen Variations 2: Jeanna Ellsworth, Kelsey Bryant, Janine Mendenhall
Christian Jane Austen Variations 3: Pamela Aidan
Christian Jane Austen Variations 4: Laura Hile
Christian Jane Austen Variations 5: Robin Helm and A Very Austen Valentine
Christian Jane Austen Variations 6: Barbara Cornthwaite and Lara S. Ormiston
Christian Jane Austen Variations 8: Laraba Kendig and Skylar Burris
Austen Variations with Science 1: Collins Hemingway, Robin Helm, Georgette Heyer
Austen Variations with Science 2: Abigail Reynolds
Science Variations 3: Novels with Regency and Victorian Science (Linda Banche, Cindy Anstey, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, Nicole Clarkston)
“”I see what you are feeling,” replied Charlotte. “You must be surprised, very much surprised—so lately as Mr. Collins was wishing to marry you. But when you have had time to think it over, I hope you will be satisfied with what I have done. I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
Elizabeth quietly answered “Undoubtedly;” and after an awkward pause, they returned to the rest of the family. Charlotte did not stay much longer, and Elizabeth was then left to reflect on what she had heard. It was a long time before she became at all reconciled to the idea of so unsuitable a match. The strangeness of Mr. Collins’s making two offers of marriage within three days was nothing in comparison of his being now accepted. She had always felt that Charlotte’s opinion of matrimony was not exactly like her own, but she had not supposed it to be possible that, when called into action, she would have sacrificed every better feeling to worldly advantage. Charlotte the wife of Mr. Collins was a most humiliating picture! And to the pang of a friend disgracing herself and sunk in her esteem, was added the distressing conviction that it was impossible for that friend to be tolerably happy in the lot she had chosen.”