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Charlotte’s Choice

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.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Lana Lou – Business deal is probably the best way to describe it, there was nothing else going on from Charlotte’s end at least. Mr. Collins is more difficult to figure out.

    Austenette – have you been talking to my father? You comment is similar to his assessment of another literary character who married for money. I agree that her behavior was immoral, I actually feel some sympathy towards Mr. Collins who has apparently deluded himself into thinking that he and his wife love each other.

  2. May I just say that your father is a very wise man!

    I just commented on someone else’s blog about it. The person was surprised that a JASNA lecturer called Charlotte’s move “respectable prostitution”. In fact the 18th century people called it even worse.

    The case of Charlotte is interesting, because she’s generally portrayed as a wise, sympathetic character, although I’m not convinced about the latter. No one has any doubt that Maria Bertram, Mrs. Clay or Lucy Steele are immoral or mercenary, but people always defend Charlotte and don’t want to see her actions as anything wrong. While to me it’s such a case like when a generally decent man, good husband and father commits a fraud. No matter all his good qualities it’s still a crime.

    Moreover the list of Charlotte’s wrongs is longer, because she thinks that Lizzy might want Collins after all, and so she tries to steal him from her friend before it’s too late. And then there’s Mary who respects Collins and it’s said she’d want him for a husband. That’s certainly more good will to build a marriage on than Charlotte’s pretence. And of course no one would throw Charlotte out of the Lucas Lodge if she didn’t marry, while she effectively turns the Bennet ladies homeless.

    I’m too sorry for Mr. Collins. Unfortunately it seems that cheating is fine as long as the man in question is stupid.

  3. So Charlote Lucas was inmoral for marrying someone she didn't love? Let me get this straight. Didn't parents at that time force their daughters to marry someone no matter what their feelings were? Is this a crime only because the initiative was hers? Come one!

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