A Textual Study of Lady Lucas, by Lelia Eye

A Textual Study of Lady Lucas, by Lelia Eye


As I have been put on bedrest for preterm labor issues, I am writing this post a bit in advance. I do not know when baby boy will get here, and the wait seems interminable! But he does need to bake a little longer.

I began re-reading Pride and Prejudice recently to see what might inspire me for a post. I then decided I liked something humorous Austen said about Lady Lucas, and I thought she would be a good character to focus on. And so it is that I have gathered all the pieces of text that I saw pertaining to her (and in some cases, her family when used in a general sense). I should note that the name “Lady Lucas” appears 18 times in Pride and Prejudice (as you may recall from a previous post I did, “Mrs. Long” appears 14 times, so for Lady Lucas’s name to only appear 18 times seems a little surprising).

While we actually do not see any direct dialogue from Lady Lucas, we do learn a fair amount about her (note the reference to Mrs. Bennet in the first bullet point – for Lady Lucas is often mentioned in conjunction with some reference to Mrs. Bennet):

  • Within a short walk of Longbourn lived a family with whom the Bennets were particularly intimate. Sir William Lucas had been formerly in trade in Meryton, where he had made a tolerable fortune, and risen to the honour of knighthood by an address to the king during his mayoralty. [ . . .] Lady Lucas was a very good kind of woman, not too clever to be a valuable neighbour to Mrs. Bennet. They had several children. The eldest of them, a sensible, intelligent young woman, about twenty-seven, was Elizabeth’s intimate friend.
  • [How Sir William views his wife’s preferences pertaining to living conditions:] “I had once had some thought of fixing in town myself—for I am fond of superior society; but I did not feel quite certain that the air of London would agree with Lady Lucas.”

We learn that some of Lady Lucas’s children are unmarried females (we specifically meet Maria and Charlotte, but we know that there must be at least one other female younger than Charlotte based on the second bullet point), and we learn that there are at least two males:

  • [With regard to visiting Bingley:] “But consider your daughters. Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them. Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go, merely on that account, for in general, you know, they visit no newcomers. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.”
  • [With regard to Charlotte’s anticipated marriage:] The younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte’s dying an old maid. [Note: I will use this quote elsewhere in this post.]

We do see that Lady Lucas’s eldest son is on the younger side:

  • “If I were as rich as Mr. Darcy,” cried a young Lucas, who came with his sisters, “I should not care how proud I was. I would keep a pack of foxhounds, and drink a bottle of wine a day.”

The role of Lady Lucas, apart from serving as Charlotte, appears to largely connected to the oh-so-important spread of news and gossip (especially in connection with Mrs. Bennet):

  • Not all that Mrs. Bennet, however, with the assistance of her five daughters, could ask on the subject, was sufficient to draw from her husband any satisfactory description of Mr. Bingley. They attacked him in various ways—with barefaced questions, ingenious suppositions, and distant surmises; but he eluded the skill of them all, and they were at last obliged to accept the second-hand intelligence of their neighbour, Lady Lucas. Her report was highly favourable. Sir William had been delighted with him. He was quite young, wonderfully handsome, extremely agreeable, and, to crown the whole, he meant to be at the next assembly with a large party.
  • Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fear that he might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be. Lady Lucas quieted her fears a little by starting the idea of his being gone to London only to get a large party for the ball; and a report soon followed that Mr. Bingley was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly.

Mrs. Bennet does not hesitate to disparage Lady Lucas and her brood whenever it means elevating her own family, to gloat about any perceived good-fortune to Lady Lucas, or to hold a grudge when it seems Lady Lucas’s good fortune has exceeded hers:

  • [With regard to Charlotte:] “No, she would go home. I fancy she was wanted about the mince-pies. For my part, Mr. Bingley, I always keep servants that can do their own work; my daughters are brought up very differently. But everybody is to judge for themselves, and the Lucases are a very good sort of girls, I assure you. It is a pity they are not handsome! Not that I think Charlotte so very plain—but then she is our particular friend.”
    “She seems a very pleasant young woman.”

    “Oh! dear, yes; but you must own she is very plain. Lady Lucas herself has often said so, and envied me Jane’s beauty. I do not like to boast of my own child, but to be sure, Jane—one does not often see anybody better looking. It is what everybody says. . . . “
  • As Elizabeth had no longer any interest of her own to pursue, she turned her attention almost entirely on her sister and Mr. Bingley; and the train of agreeable reflections which her observations gave birth to, made her perhaps almost as happy as Jane. She saw her in idea settled in that very house, in all the felicity which a marriage of true affection could bestow; and she felt capable, under such circumstances, of endeavouring even to like Bingley’s two sisters. Her mother’s thoughts she plainly saw were bent the same way, and she determined not to venture near her, lest she might hear too much. When they sat down to supper, therefore, she considered it a most unlucky perverseness which placed them within one of each other; and deeply was she vexed to find that her mother was talking to that one person (Lady Lucas) freely, openly, and of nothing else but her expectation that Jane would soon be married to Mr. Bingley. It was an animating subject, and Mrs. Bennet seemed incapable of fatigue while enumerating the advantages of the match. [ . . . ] She concluded with many good wishes that Lady Lucas might soon be equally fortunate, though evidently and triumphantly believing there was no chance of it.
  • [Before Elizabeth’s rejection of Mr. Collins:] Many stared—many smiled; but no one looked more amused than Mr. Bennet himself, while his wife seriously commended Mr. Collins for having spoken so sensibly, and observed in a half-whisper to Lady Lucas, that he was a remarkably clever, good kind of young man.
  • A week elapsed before she could see Elizabeth without scolding her, a month passed away before she could speak to Sir William or Lady Lucas without being rude, and many months were gone before she could at all forgive their daughter.
  • [Mrs. Bennet to Mrs. Gardiner about Elizabeth and Mr. Collins:] ” . . . He made her an offer in this very room, and she refused him. The consequence of it is, that Lady Lucas will have a daughter married before I have, and that the Longbourn estate is just as much entailed as ever. The Lucases are very artful people indeed, sister. They are all for what they can get. I am sorry to say it of them, but so it is. It makes me very nervous and poorly, to be thwarted so in my own family, and to have neighbours who think of themselves before anybody else. However, your coming just at this time is the greatest of comforts, and I am very glad to hear what you tell us, of long sleeves.”
  • Mr. Collins returned into Hertfordshire soon after it had been quitted by the Gardiners and Jane; but as he took up his abode with the Lucases, his arrival was no great inconvenience to Mrs. Bennet. His marriage was now fast approaching, and she was at length so far resigned as to think it inevitable, and even repeatedly to say, in an ill-natured tone, that she “wished they might be happy.”
  • [Mrs. Bennet about Lydia’s marriage:] “I will go to Meryton,” said she, “as soon as I am dressed, and tell the good, good news to my sister Philips. And as I come back, I can call on Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long. . . . “
  • “What say you to the day? I think every thing has passed off uncommonly well, I assure you. The dinner was as well dressed as any I ever saw. The venison was roasted to a turn—and everybody said they never saw so fat a haunch. The soup was fifty times better than what we had at the Lucases’ last week; and even Mr. Darcy acknowledged, that the partridges were remarkably well done; and I suppose he has two or three French cooks at least. . . . “

Lady Lucas does her part in listening to her neighbor, but like Mrs. Bennet, she seems to not sincerely wish good fortune to fall upon her neighbor:

  • At length, however, Mrs. Bennet had no more to say; and Lady Lucas, who had been long yawning at the repetition of delights which she saw no likelihood of sharing, was left to the comforts of cold ham and chicken.
  • Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity. Mr. Collins’s present circumstances made it a most eligible match for their daughter, to whom they could give little fortune; and his prospects of future wealth were exceedingly fair. Lady Lucas began directly to calculate, with more interest than the matter had ever excited before, how many years longer Mr. Bennet was likely to live; and Sir William gave it as his decided opinion, that whenever Mr. Collins should be in possession of the Longbourn estate, it would be highly expedient that both he and his wife should make their appearance at St. James’s. The whole family, in short, were properly overjoyed on the occasion. The younger girls formed hopes of coming out a year or two sooner than they might otherwise have done; and the boys were relieved from their apprehension of Charlotte’s dying an old maid.
  • Lady Lucas could not be insensible of triumph on being able to retort on Mrs. Bennet the comfort of having a daughter well married; and she called at Longbourn rather oftener than usual to say how happy she was, though Mrs. Bennet’s sour looks and ill-natured remarks might have been enough to drive happiness away.

Like her mother, Elizabeth seems to not have an especially favorable opinion of Lady Lucas (at least when it comes to nosiness):

  • [Jane with regard to when the Lydia issues arose:] ” . . . And Lady Lucas has been very kind; she walked here on Wednesday morning to condole with us, and offered her services, or any of her daughters’, if they should be of use to us.”
    “She had better have stayed at home,” cried Elizabeth; “perhaps she meant well, but, under such a misfortune as this, one cannot see too little of one’s neighbours. Assistance is impossible; condolence insufferable. Let them triumph over us at a distance, and be satisfied.”

Mr. Bennet does not seem to have an especially high opinion of the Lucases, though he looks at them in a more lighthearted sort of way:

  • “Something very much to the purpose of course. He begins with congratulations on the approaching nuptials of my eldest daughter, of which, it seems, he has been told by some of the good-natured, gossiping Lucases. . . . “
  • Mr. Darcy, you see, is the man! Now, Lizzy, I think I have surprised you. Could he, or the Lucases, have pitched on any man within the circle of our acquaintance, whose name would have given the lie more effectually to what they related? Mr. Darcy, who never looks at any woman but to see a blemish, and who probably never looked at you in his life! It is admirable!”

Finally, there are various minor references to engagements/visits/meetings/etc. involving the Lucases:

  • The Bennets were engaged to dine with the Lucases and again during the chief of the day was Miss Lucas so kind as to listen to Mr. Collins.
  • The Gardiners stayed a week at Longbourn; and what with the Phillipses, the Lucases, and the officers, there was not a day without its engagement. 
  • Their party in the dining-room was large, for almost all the Lucases came to meet Maria and hear the news; and various were the subjects that occupied them: Lady Lucas was inquiring of Maria, after the welfare and poultry of her eldest daughter; Mrs. Bennet was doubly engaged, on one hand collecting an account of the present fashions from Jane, who sat some way below her, and, on the other, retailing them all to the younger Lucases; and Lydia, in a voice rather louder than any other person’s, was enumerating the various pleasures of the morning to anybody who would hear her.
  • It was not to be supposed that time would give Lydia that embarrassment from which she had been so wholly free at first. Her ease and good spirits increased. She longed to see Mrs. Phillips, the Lucases, and all their other neighbours, and to hear herself called “Mrs. Wickham” by each of them; and in the mean time, she went after dinner to show her ring, and boast of being married, to Mrs. Hill and the two housemaids.
  • She had not herself forgotten to feel that the marriage of her sister must bring them more frequently together. And her neighbours at Lucas Lodge, therefore (for through their communication with the Collinses, the report, she concluded, had reached lady Catherine), had only set that down as almost certain and immediate, which she had looked forward to as possible at some future time.
  • They walked towards the Lucases, because Kitty wished to call upon Maria; and as Elizabeth saw no occasion for making it a general concern, when Kitty left them she went boldly on with him alone.
  • Before any answer could arrive from Mr. Collins, or any congratulations to Elizabeth from his wife, the Longbourn family heard that the Collinses were come themselves to Lucas Lodge.

Looking at the various pieces of text, my impression is that Lady Lucas is much like Mrs. Bennet, except she is not as loud or over-the-top, and she is a bit nosier. She also seems to have a better handle on a lot of the gossip.

What do you think about Lady Lucas? Do you think she’s just as bad as Mrs. Bennet? Do you think she’s justified in trying to give Mrs. Bennet a dose of her own medicine (through gloating about good fortune)?

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July 29, 2021 8:45 PM

I think they are very similar.

Caryl Kane
Caryl Kane
July 29, 2021 4:14 PM

Lelia, Thank you for sharing this fascinating post! Praying all goes well with your delivery.

Riana Everly
July 29, 2021 1:07 PM

What an interesting post!

I’ve always imagined the two matrons as two peas in a pod, best of friends, but also both trying to outdo the other. I think Regina has it exactly right – Mrs. B was always able to lord it over her friend for having the most beautiful daughter in town, and now Lady L gets to turn the tables on her.

I wonder if the two were friends in childhood? I can see this competitive friendship having started when they were almost too young to talk!

Regina Jeffers
July 29, 2021 6:47 AM

Neither Mrs. Bennet or Lady Lucas were “raised” as ladies. We know Mrs. Bennet’s brother is in trade and her sister has married a country solicitor, both indicates Mrs. Bennet’s background. We also know Sir William Lucas has been knighted for his “mayoral” duties to the community, so he might have been a country squire or he might also have been in trade. We do not know what he did before he became “Sir William.” After the knighthood, we know he aspired to better dwellings. I would think Lady Lucas is more jealous of Mrs. Bennet moving into the gentry than she would care to admit. The fact Charlotte will replace Mrs. Bennet is a “just revenge” for hearing Mrs. Bennet’s repeated praise of Jane being the prettiest in the shire, etc. Charlotte has quite literally beaten the prettiest girl to an established estate in the area. Whereas, even with all her beauty and being a “gentleman’s daughter,” Jane has been left behind by Bingley.

Riana Everly
July 29, 2021 1:09 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

I think Sir W was formerly in trade, so of the same class as the Gardiners.
I’m curious now – if William Lucas was knighted, what does that do to his social rank? Does it elevate him to the gentry? Or is he still middle class, despite the knighthood? Hmmm…. something to research!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
July 29, 2021 6:26 AM

I think she is like Mrs. Bennett to a degree. I guess we all need a dose of Our own medicine sometimes!

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