One of my favorite parts of the latest Pride and Prejudice adaptation was when Charlotte Lucas told Elizabeth that she was marrying Mr. Collins. Elizabeth is sitting on a swing when Charlotte comes up. After establishing that engaged to be married is the only type of engaged there is, Charlotte tells a shocked Elizabeth not to judge her reminding Elizabeth, and informing the audience, that she is twenty-seven, has no money, is a burden on her parents, is not likely to receive another proposal of marriage, and is frightened of what her future will be like if she doesn’t marry.
I think that this scene is the best explanation that I have ever seen for why the intelligent and sensible Charlotte Lucas would choose to marry the unintelligent and insensible Mr. Collins and it is completely in tune with Pride and Prejudice’s actual text! The in chapter 22 of the novel we learn that:
“Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want. This preservative she had now obtained; and at the age of twenty-seven, without having ever been handsome, she felt all the good luck of it.”
If she didn’t marry, Charlotte would likely end up living in one of her brothers’ homes where she would be a poor relation dependant on the good will of whichever sibling (and sibling-in-law) she did end up with and the final choice would not have necessarily been up to her. As to the aftermath of her actual decision, Charlotte herself does not seem in any way displeased with it, even when you throw Lady Catherine into the bargain. She has a home of her own, in which she can do as she likes – we hear of Lady Catherine criticizing her household arrangements but we do not hear or Charlotte changing them – rather than accepting another woman’s decisions on how to run the household and she has the security of knowing that her husband is the heir to an impressive estate. In marrying Mr. Collins, Charlotte has perhaps gone from being the Lucas child with the least chance of affluence to being the one with the most and the financial aspect is what Charlotte was most concerned with, she has gotten exactly what she wanted from the married life.