Discovering Jane Austen when you are young is a particular pleasure. Not only can you delight in the stories and the characters, but you are also guided by the author’s voice as to exactly what to make of them.
When I first read the novels, I shared Austen's scornful attitude to the snobbishness and vulgarity of Mrs Elton in Emma. I winced at Emma's self-delusion. I derided the vain Sir Walter in Persuasion. I rooted for the meek and overlooked Fanny in Mansfield Park.
And how I mocked Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice for her limited intelligence and lack of judgement. As for Charlotte Lucas in the same novel – I shared Elizabeth's opinion of her. How could she marry such man as Mr Collins?
Really, I thought, with the certainty of youth, Charlotte is letting down women everywhere. She sacrifices self-respect for the sake of a comfortable home, I thought, with the smugness of one who had yet to fend for herself in the world.
Two things happened to alter some of my views.
First of all, I re-read the novels several times. I studied them in more detail. I became more sensitive to nuances, and became more aware of the author's skill in directing my response.
Then, life itself intervened, and suddenly we were grown-up, then more grown-up. And at one of those evenings with grown-up friends, all discussing their daughters' boyfriends and their suitability or lack thereof, and venues for weddings, and the cost involved, I suddenly thought, ‘When did we all become Mrs Bennet?’
All at once, Mrs B doesn’t seem so bad. What’s wrong with wanting the best for your girls? What’s wrong with hoping that they marry men who can afford to keep them? It’s not as if Austen’s heroines could have careers.
And doesn’t Mrs Bennet make the best of a bad job, being married to a clever man who clearly regrets that he was carried away by her youthful good looks, and does nothing but tease and mock her?
And guess what, Charlotte doesn't seem so bad either. She isn’t the first or last woman to marry for pragmatic reasons. There would have been no point in Charlotte holding out for romantic love – it just wasn’t going to happen.
Charlotte is clear-sighted. She sees her future and it doesn’t look bright. She wants a husband and a comfortable home – just like many young women today. So she sees her chance and takes it. After all, she is very unlikely to receive another proposal of marriage.
These observations led me to creating modern-day equivalents of the characters and themes of Pride and Prejudice.
I wanted to explore the choices and compromises that women make in the search for love and happiness in our complicated 21st Century lives.
I particularly wanted to bring the Mrs Bennet figure on to the central stage, so enter Patsy Nicholson, an attractive woman with three grown-up single daughters and an intriguing past.
I’ve taken lots of liberties with the novel, but hope that I have preserved its spirit – and there are plenty of references for Janeites to pick up! I hope you enjoy reading Charlotte's Wedding as much as I enjoyed writing it.
About the author
Mary Rizza has published three other novels, Living Doll, The Love You Make, and West Beach Summer, and also writes non-fiction under the name of Mary Hartley.
Charlotte’s Wedding is available worldwide on Amazon