Spin-offs from Pride and Prejudice generally focus on Elizabeth and Darcy and occasionally the other Bennet sisters. Instead, in Charlotte’s Story Carolyn Korsmeyer writes from the perspective of Charlotte Lucas, Lizzy’s best friend. As in Austen’s novel, Charlotte marries Reverend Mr. Collins after Lizzy refuses him. She’s not unaware of Mr. Collins’s verbosity, pretentions, and sycophantic relationship to his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but regards marriage and a home and family of her own as preferable to remaining the elder spinster daughter. Besides, she has her own private retreat in the parsonage.
Austen creates Mr. Collins as a ridiculous figure, made worse by the entailment of the Bennet family estate to him, their nearest male relative. So too in Charlotte’s Story, though the frequent laugh-out-loud-moments aren’t all thanks to Mr. Collins’s folly. Often it’s Charlotte’s perceptions and wit that provide the humor. She’s a warm-hearted, intelligent narrator whose inner deliberations develop as she realizes the complexities of what she believed a practical marital choice.
Korsmeyer’s language echoes Austen’s style without seeming stilted or anachronistic as she weaves Austen’s characters and plot elements into Charlotte’s marriage story. With stress developing between them, Mr. Collins sends Charlotte on an extended trip to the fashionable city of Bath in the company of her sister, numerous Bennets, and Anne de Bourgh. Charlotte savors the healing waters, but amidst the social whirl of shopping, assemblies, flirtations, and supper parties, potential scandals draw her in.
The reader sees incidents from Pride and Prejudice anew in a story that’s very much of the 18th century as well as to a degree contemporary, including, discreetly and amusingly, the sex life of Charlotte and William Collins. Throughout, Charlotte’s moral dilemmas, sensible outlook, and loving heart illuminate this delightful novel. Highly recommended.