The Longbourn Letters: The Correspondence Between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet, by Rose Servitova, is an epistolary novel that imagines how these two men’s friendship may have developed and continued after Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice drew to its happy conclusion. The preface summarises the original story and explains why the author chose to write the book. There then follows a prologue offering an explanation of how such letters may have come to light. I am a tad wary of authors taking a much loved story and writing beyond it but this section, the prologue, was the only part of the novel that I found unconvincing – and unnecessary. The heart is the letters and they provide entertaining and worthwhile reading.
Presented in date order and divided into the seven years during which the two men correspond, the first two years include the timeframe in which Pride and Prejudice is set. Mr Collins writes to Mr Bennet offering an ‘olive branch’ in his desire to end a family breach and visit with his cousin. Subsequent letters offer a commentary on events from each of the men’s perspectives. There are references to Mr Collins’ matrimonial rejection by Elizabeth Bennet and subsequent engagement to Charlotte Lucas. The author perfectly captures the voices of the men – Mr Collins’ pomposity and the delight Mr Bennet takes in mocking this without the other realising.
At times Mr Collins’ well intentioned advice stings to the extent that Mr Bennet responds with less candour. A further breach of friendship occurs as a result but this is eventually healed.
The impression is given that the women in the tale exchange letters regularly, thereby sharing the minutae of their lives which they pass on in subsequent conversations. The two men write a mere handful of letters each year, usually to acknowledge significant events or arrange to meet. Thus the content is on point – marriages and births along with asides on reading recommendations and mildly competitive updates on hobbies such as gardening. Mr Collins is by far the greater gossip, especially as regards his standing at Rosings and news of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Mr Bennett obviously delights in such updates and encourages his friend to reveal all the juicy details.
Although at times there are little barbs and asides, the relationship between the men is one of warmth and increasing affection. Their characters remain true to Jane Austen’s creations. It is interesting to read of how the Bennet girls’ lives develop but the story’s strength is that it focuses on the men who love and support them.
It is also interesting to consider the lives of the independently wealthy in Georgian times. The intrigues, gossip, frustrations and highlights are well portrayed. This though is a tale of a friendship, one that ebbs and flows but ultimately enriches. Recommended to all who enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, it is a warm, humorous and engaging read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.