The world created by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice has established a place for itself in contemporary culture that few other novels can match, yet amid the countless spinoffs, some stand out. Molly Greeley seems to have a special gift for creating novels that, although based on Austen’s creations, take on a life of their own.
In 2019’s The Clergyman’s Wife, Greeley imagined how the marriage between Charlotte Lucas, the friend of Austen’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet, and Mr. Collins, Austen’s risible antagonist, might have worked out after three years. The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh (William Morrow, 2020) takes up the story of a character who in the original Pride and Prejudice exists mostly as an example of the kind of young woman that novel’s hero, Mr. Darcy, should prefer to Elizabeth, if only in the opinion of Anne’s formidable mother, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Now, to anyone familiar with Lady Catherine, the thought of being her daughter is itself enough to cause shudders of alarm, but on the surface, Anne has a privileged life, including the right—rare for a woman in eighteenth-century Europe—to inherit her father’s estate. In this, she occupies the opposite position from Charlotte Lucas, who married Mr. Collins solely to avoid becoming an elderly, unwanted spinster living in genteel poverty.
But all is not well in Anne’s world, either. A fractious although healthy baby, she undergoes “treatment” for what we assume is colic that leaves her addicted to laudanum, an opiate. Her father wants to wean Anne of the drug, but her mother insists on following the advice of the local quack even as Anne becomes more listless and emaciated. A governess sparks Anne’s interest in poetry and mathematics, but it’s only when Anne herself awakens to the dangers of laudanum and decides to rid herself of her addiction at all costs that she begins to grow into her inheritance.
C. P. Lesley is the author of ten novels, including Legends of the Five Directions, a historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Her next book, Song of the Sisters, will appear in January 2021.
C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her latest book, Song of the Sisters, appeared in January 2021.