Title: The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh
Author: Molly Greeley
Published: January 5th, 2021 (William Morrow)
Synopsis: In this gorgeously written and spellbinding historical novel based on Pride and Prejudice, the author of The Clergyman’s Wife combines the knowing eye of Jane Austen with the eroticism and Gothic intrigue of Sarah Waters to reimagine the life of the mysterious Anne de Bourgh.
As a fussy baby, Anne de Bourgh’s doctor prescribed laudanum to quiet her, and now the young woman must take the opium-heavy tincture every day. Growing up sheltered and confined, removed from sunshine and fresh air, the pale and overly slender Anne grew up with few companions except her cousins, including Fitzwilliam Darcy. Throughout their childhoods, it was understood that Darcy and Anne would marry and combine their vast estates of Pemberley and Rosings. But Darcy does not love Anne or want her.
After her father dies unexpectedly, leaving her his vast fortune, Anne has a moment of clarity: what if her life of fragility and illness isn’t truly real? What if she could free herself from the medicine that clouds her sharp mind and leaves her body weak and lethargic? Might there be a better life without the medicine she has been told she cannot live without?
In a frenzy of desperation, Anne discards her laudanum and flees to the London home of her cousin, Colonel John Fitzwilliam, who helps her through her painful recovery. Yet once she returns to health, new challenges await. Shy and utterly inexperienced, the wealthy heiress must forge a new identity for herself, learning to navigate a “season” in society and the complexities of love and passion. The once wan, passive Anne gives way to a braver woman with a keen edge—leading to a powerful reckoning with the domineering mother determined to control Anne’s fortune . . . and her life.
An extraordinary tale of one woman’s liberation, The Heiress reveals both the darkness and light in Austen’s world, with wit, sensuality, and a deeply compassionate understanding of the human heart.
Thank you to the publisher, William Morrow, and Edelweiss for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Prescribed laudanum as an infant to calm her, Anne de Bourgh has grown accustomed and addicted to it over the years, turning into a weak and sickly young woman. Throughout her life, it has always been understood that she would marry her cousin Darcy, but when that doesn’t happen, Anne finds herself the mistress of a fortune and estate she has never been taught how to manage. Slowly, she begins to see that her sickly nature might actually be one caused by the laudanum and in a moment of clarity, she flees to her cousin Fitzwilliam in London, determined to discard the medicine forever and find out who she might be without it.
Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, when I can pull my attention away from Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, I always wonder what became of the other characters – the younger Bennet sisters, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and most of all Anne de Bourgh. Anne is a character who we barely get to know at all, as she is largely in the shadow of Lady Catherine’s domineering presence. We follow Anne through her childhood, and though it is told from her perspective, it feels so detached, as if reading through a fog – a stark contrast from the tone later when she is out of the effects of the medicine. Having been told that her health is poor for so long, she herself has begun to believe it until her governess suggests that she might not actually be as ill as she believes. We get to spend a lot of time in Anne’s thoughts as she finally takes charge of her life, entering London society and experiencing the many things that her mother has denied her with her health as an excuse. I thought her transition was very well presented from a perpetually stupefied state, to going through the painful withdrawal process and finally learning what normal life is like, finding her way in the world and standing on her own feet.
I really liked the writing style, which made for a fast-paced and easy read. One thing that was really nice was that this can easily be read as a standalone novel. Obviously, having previously read Pride and Prejudice adds a better understanding to it, but Anne’s story can be understood and appreciated without it. I thought it an interesting twist that Anne took a rather untraditional approach to her situation, taking advantage of being the a wealthy heiress, choosing not to marry and let her husband take care of things as was usually done in that time. The best part however, is that no matter how creative the author has been with Anne’s storyline, it doesn’t interfere with or reinterpret anything we already know, and while the tone of the book was not authentically Austen, it still felt genuine from what I know of the era.
The one thing I didn’t like about this book was how, following Anne’s escape to London, the excitement level of the story just drops and while her reactions to her first experiences of the big city are entirely realistic, I also expected that Anne, once weaned off the laudanum, would have a much more lively personality but she was as withdrawn as ever, just a little healthier.
Overall, this was an entertaining read, and an fascinating interpretation of what could have been. It is, of course, a rather progressive take, all things considered, and if you’re very attached to the Austen originals, this may not be the book for you, but if approached with an open mind, can be quite enjoyable for those interested in retellings of classics.
The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh releases on January 5th, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!