Book Review

The Heiress by Molly Greeley

TW: child abuse, drug abuse, addiction and recovery

Fans of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice might recall meeting Anne de Bourgh for a hot minute and also hearing her referred to incessantly by her domineering mother, Lady Catherine. The Heiress tells Anne’s story from her point of view, beginning in early childhood and extending through the entirety of her life. This book was not what I expected, but I loved it once I adjusted to its tone. While The Heiress contains a romance, it is less about romance and much more about the search of the protagonist for autonomy and purpose in her life. It may not be necessary to have read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy this novel, but the reader should at least have a familiarity with the characters and basic plot.

In Pride and Prejudice, Catherine de Bourgh raves about how wonderful her daughter Anne is. She claims that the de Bourgh and Darcy families have had an “understanding” for years that eventually Anne and Mr. Darcy would wed. According to her mother, Anne has some kind of chronic illness, but this will not impede the suitability of the marriage (According to Lady Catherine), nor will it be a problem that Anne has not been trained to handle the estate she will someday inherit, since Darcy will do everything (again, According to Lady Catherine).

Upon meeting Anne, Elizabeth Bennet is not impressed:

“I like her appearance,” said Elizabeth, struck with other ideas. “She looks sickly and cross. Yes, she will do for him very well. She will make him a very proper wife.”

The Heiress is narrated by Anne beginning in her early childhood. As an infant, Anne cried a great deal. The family physician prescribed laudanum drops. This was not an unusual treatment during the time period. What is more unusual is:


Lady Catherine is so pleased to be able to quiet Anne and make her calm and easy to cope with that she, with encouragement from the doctor, continues to have Anne’s nurse administer laudanum daily for years, eventually increasing the dose to such a degree that Anne is perpetually listless, sleepy, and eventually prone to hallucinations. Lady Catherine and the doctor also severely restrict Anne’s opportunities to study, to play, and to physically exert herself. They limit her access to reading material and give her a strict, bland diet. This continues into Anne’s twenties, when she forces herself through withdrawal from her laudanum addiction.

It is sickening to watch this unfold. The medical and emotional abuse of Anne is not sensational or exciting – it is simply and hopelessly horrific. The hours she spends on settees and chairs and mattresses, too stupefied to move and yet focused on tiny details such as small details of embroidery and little garden spiders, are rendered in prose that is poetic without glorifying her state:

I remained so still and recumbent that all manner of creatures came to me: bees roaming from the garden hives, who perhaps mistook my gowns with their block-printed patterns of leaves and flowers for an extension of the garden beds; beetles who scuttled up my wrist on feet so light I could not feel them…[grasshoppers] startled me a little from my stupor when they bounded from ground, to bench-back, to my knee, and down again. They were so energetic that, loose-jawed and loose-limbed, I could only marvel at them. The voices of all the grown persons in my life buzzed inside my head like the whirring of insect wings, reminding me gently that I was not meant for such darting quickness.

Happily, Anne has some allies – her governess, who is the first person to speak frankly with Anne about laudanum addiction, her cousin Colonel John Fitzwilliam, who gives her a haven in London, and her new London friend, Eliza, with whom she falls in love.

Incidentally, I was enchanted by the lyrical, descriptive, mood-evoking language in the novel. It is sensorially immersive but also allows the reader to share Anne’s mood. What the book lacks in plot it makes up for in description – assuming that the reader enjoys long descriptive passages such as the one quoted above.

This is more historical fiction than romance novel in the sense that Anne’s story begins long before she meets Eliza and continues all the way to Anne’s death from old age. However, the romance is a significant part of the book because not only does it occupy much of the novel, it is fundamental to Anne’s personal development. I found the relationship between Anne and Eliza to be beautiful, inspiring, sexy, and realistic in both their challenges and their successes. Anne and Eliza have utmost faith in each other’s best qualities. Without wanting to change each other, they help one another become their best selves. This is my favorite kind of romance, one in which there is humor and good communication and an enormous amount of mutual respect, not to mention fantastic sex. Because the book is so tightly focused on Anne, we don’t get as much insight into Eliza. However, I appreciated her humor, her kindness, her brilliant mind, and her insistence on making her own choices.

Wary romance readers might ask, “Is there an HEA?”


Yes. And, BTW, she eventually becomes friends with Elizabeth and Darcy.

This is a slow-paced, character-based novel, with no major exciting events. Nothing explodes, there are no murders, no high-speed chases. Instead, it’s a quiet, lyrical, moving biography of a remarkable woman who fights a lifetime of gaslighting, abuse and drug dependency to live life on her own terms. A lot of this book was difficult to read because of the gaslighting and abuse, but it is ultimately triumphant. Meanwhile, the prose is gorgeous. This is not the light read I was expecting. It’s so much better, and will delight readers who enjoy beautifully written, historically accurate, feminist, LGBTQIA-friendly fiction with the inclusion of a moving love story. I found Anne’s struggle to be drug-free, free from her mother’s control, and confident in herself to be haunting and inspiring in a quiet and meditative way, and a powerful reminder that there are many ways to be kick-ass.

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The Heiress by Molly Greeley

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  1. Qualisign says:

    I’m terrified to read this book lest it not be as good as CarrieS indicates. It sounds like it may be exactly the Austen corrective I’ve wanted and needed all these years. Rather than ending up with the proper rich man, a character from P&P actually deals with the underlying issues and escapes from the fetters of society that are enforced through directive, gaslighting, addiction, and lack of agency. Great review, CarrieS; I must read this.

  2. LisaM says:

    This sounds really intriguing. I don’t usually read Austen continuations, but I like the idea of following other characters’ stories. I would love Persuasion’s Mrs. Smith to get a happy healthy second marriage (or at least love).

  3. Lisa F says:

    Putting this on the TBR; I’m picky about Pride and Prejudice squeals/midquels/rewrites, but this sounds good.

  4. Msb says:

    Sounds good, especially the praise for the writing. The problem with most of Austen’s successors, is often that Austen’s a so much better writer than they.

  5. SarahL says:

    Just finished this last night and definitely agree with Carrie’s review. I don’t even think you need to be a P&P fan (or have read Austen) to appreciate it. Fans of Sarah Waters or Emma Donoghue would likely enjoy this book.

    I also really liked the author’s previous work (The Clergyman’s Wife, about Charlotte Lucas/Collins) and it has a similar lyrical quality to the writing, though the content is much different.

  6. Christina Boyd says:

    Lovely review. If you enjoyed this, I have to recommend Beau North’s “Longbourn’s Songbird” and “The Colonel”.

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