Review: Charlotte by Helen Moffett

Title: Charlotte

Author: Helen Moffett

Published: 14th May 2020, Manila Press

Status: Read December 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

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My Thoughts:

I have to confess that Pride and Prejudice was always one of my least favourite Jane Austen novels, until that is I watched the 2005 movie adaptation, which I adore. Since then I’ve read only a few of what must be hundreds of retellings/sequels/reimaginings/modern adaptions of the novels, of which Charlotte is one.

Helen Moffett takes a unique approach to the canon by placing Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth Darcy’s (née Bennett) friend, at the heart of her own story. It begins several years after Charlotte’s marriage to the Bennett’s cousin, Reverend Collins, with the tragic death of their third child and only son, Thomas. His death, and a visit to Pemberley, results in Charlotte contemplating the decision she made to marry Mr Collins, and the vulnerability of her own two young daughters to a fate decided by men.

In many respects, the Charlotte Moffett portrays is just as I imagined she might be, a kind and capable woman with the respect of her community, a loyal wife, and a wonderful mother. Marrying Mr Collins my have been a compromise, but she has made peace with the decision, and has created a life she generally finds satisfying., until the death of her son disturbs her equilibrium.

A months long visit to Pemberley with her girls, to stay with Elizabeth at the behest of a worried Mr Darcy in his absence, gives Charlotte time to mourn. Moffett also uses this opportunity to introduce a new character, an Austrian musician and piano tuner, Jacob Rosenstein, who prompts Charlotte to imagine a different fate for herself.

As in Austen’s novels, there is a strong feminist element at play, exploring the lack of agency women experience, their futures determined at the whim of their fathers, brothers, and husbands. While Charlotte acknowledges a semblance of luck in marrying Mr Collins, whose faults do not extend to excessive drinking or violence, she still resents that she had no real alternative, and doesn’t want her daughters to suffer similarly.

Readers familiar with Jane Austen’s oeuvre will appreciate Moffett’s references to other works, as well as glimpses of an imagined fate for many of the characters from Pride and Prejudice, none more surprising perhaps than of Anne De Bourgh. Purists may be upset by some of the liberties Moffett takes, but I happily embraced them all.

I found the writing to be lovely, in keeping with Austen’s own prose, though not quite as stiff. There is a lot of emotion in this story which I think Moffett communicates beautifully from Charlotte’s journey through grief, to her discovery of passion.

Moving, bright, and charming, I was captivated by Charlotte, and happily recommend it.

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Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

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