Miss Lucas is an interesting character. If she were alive today, I’m sure she would take the business world by storm. She has CEO written all over her. She knows how to manage difficult people and maximize their talents in the most beneficial way.
Unfortunately, she was born in the wrong century. At 27, Charlotte is considered on the shelf. An old maid. A spinster. Poor Charlotte. Because she has no independent fortune (we don’t know what her dowry is, if any) she is being supported by her parents. When they die, her care will fall to her brother(s) or possibly her sister Maria if she has married.
I’ve always gotten the impression that the Lucases had several children and that Charlotte was the eldest. The family wasn’t born into the gentry. Mr. Lucas was a mayor who made a fancy speech and got knighted for it. Before that, he was in some sort of trade, we assume. That class
often had more children than the gentry, adding weight to the idea of them being a large family. Also, Maria and Charlotte help with the cooking, which means they don’t have enough servants, which also makes me think there are a lot of little Lucases running around.
Charlotte Lucas’s claim to fame is two-fold. Firstly, she is a dear friend to our beloved Elizabeth Bennet, which makes her automatically liked by many. Secondly, she makes the bold move of marrying Mr. Collins. I don’t know about you, but I’d bet money that Charlotte persuaded him into that. With the right words and encouragement, she could easily get Collins to believe anything, even that he was in love with a 27-year-old spinster three days after proposing to his younger, prettier cousin.
In order to understand Charlotte’s monumental decision (which ultimately puts Elizabeth in a position to meet Darcy again, get proposed to, and tear him a new one), we have to understand marriage as it was then. Today, people marry mostly for love and affection, largely because there isn’t much other need to marry. Two hundred years ago, even 70 years ago, women didn’t have half the rights men did, leaving them unprotected legally in a variety of ways. There were notable exceptions and the odd independently wealthy woman, but that was not common and certainly not Charlotte’s situation.
She could not own property. She had no legal right to any children she might have. If she had a child out of wedlock, it would be a bastard without a last name. She would be a social pariah. For a woman who wanted children, marrying a respectable man was really the only logical way to go. In many places and situations today, that is still the case.
A woman living with her mother was under her mother’s rule. If Charlotte had moved in with a family member, she would have been subject to their whims and fancies and living on their charity. More than a servant, but not a fully vested family member. Charlotte was looking at a bleak and possibly horrible future. Her parents wouldn’t live forever, she knew that.
Just imagine how humiliating it would be for her to move lower down the line when her younger sister Maria, 12 years her junior, married and walked ahead of her into every dining room and social gathering. Society was not kind to old maids. She would have been pitied and talked about and considered a great disappointment. Or worse, simply forgotten.
In addition to her personal situation, marriage was more an economic move than a romantic one. It was an odd settlement, really. Most people were friendly with their spouse at the time of marriage, some not at all. A few were in love, of course, as there always are, but there is no guarantee that they were both in love with their spouse (I’m looking at you, Wickham). No, people married for political alliances, fortune, and connections. Of course, if you could find affection amongst the small circle deemed suitable to choose from, more power to you, but that was understandably rare. Some couples grew to love each other, maybe some romantically and others like dear friends. Many began friendly and ended the same. Many also began friendly or as strangers and eventually hated each other and lived completely separate lives. I have my own theories about that and think it likely had to do with hoping your marriage would become more than it was and being unbearably disappointed with the lack of passion, romance, and companionship, but that is not what this post is about.
Charlotte is an intelligent character. She knew what was up and was not about to watch her life pass her by when opportunity knocked. I don’t think I could be married to a guy like Collins without going to jail, but I respect that she saw a chance and grabbed it with both hands. Here was an easy to manage guy who had a good situation in life. He had a great job that came with a nice house and was in line to inherit a great place in her hometown, just up the lane from her beloved family.
She had to know that being the Mistress of Longbourn would elevate her in status. Everyone who had pitied her would then look up to her. She would be invited everywhere and widely respected. It’s like going to your 20 year high school reunion, 15 pounds lighter in designer clothes and sporting a rich husband. Who wouldn’t want that chance?
Lady of the Manor beats Sad Old Maid any day.
While Charlotte made a somewhat unpalatable choice, I respect that she steered clear of Collins while her friend had dibs. She knew Mrs. Bennet wanted him for her daughters, and rightly so, and she knew he wanted one of them. She’s not conniving like Miss Bingley and willing to do anything to get what she wants. No, Charlotte respects her friends’ desires and leaves Collins alone, then when they no longer want him, and only then, she happily picks up the pieces. It’s brilliant, really. She steps on no one’s toes technically, he gets a sensible wife, and she gets the autonomy and status she’d been craving.
And of course she’s always right. She knew Jane was playing it a little too cool, but no one listened. She also knew Darcy had a thing for Elizabeth, but again, no one listened. (I sense a future story here.) She knew she could be happy with Collins, and maybe it was by sheer will power, but was pleased with her situation. And I can understand why.
Yes, Collins is a buffoon, but he isn’t cruel. He doesn’t beat her or torment her. He’s just annoying. And did we not already establish that Charlotte is the CEO of her parsonage? She’s got that middle manager under tight control. And elegantly done, too. Collins doesn’t even know he’s under her expert guidance.
In the end, I have to say that I respect Charlotte for getting it done. In one fell swoop, she secured her future and elevated her status and that of her family without hurting anyone or doing anything illegal. She got security, the promise of her own family, and the (albeit ridiculous) devotion of an eligible man.
What do you think of Charlotte’s Big Decision? Would you have done the same?
I’ll admit I’m more an Elizabeth myself – I would have turned him down flat – but I admire Charlotte’s chutzpa.
What about you???