Charlotte Lucas, Spinster

Charlotte Lucas, Spinster

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???

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Sheila L. M.
Sheila L. M.
December 27, 2015 4:33 PM

Thank goodness we are not in Charlotte’s position but YES in her day and age her decision was a wise, fortuitous choice for her. And she managed it all so well. The only thing we don’t hear in canon but which some JAFF gives us is the management of the bedroom rights. Some have this as a designated night, i.e., Saturdays. And if she gave him an heir she could then put that off from what I have read of advice given to young brides.

Jessie M.
Jessie M.
December 19, 2015 4:20 PM

I believe that if I had found myself in Charlottes’ shoes I would have done the same thing. Elizabeth was only twenty and reasonably attractive, so she wasn’t at the desperate stage yet. Women had few choices and no control over their own lives but Charlotte took control and set her course which paid off. I would not have chosen that route but I applaud Charlottes’ cunning.

December 4, 2015 12:24 PM

I’m afraid I could never have accepted Mr Collins no matter the circumstances but Charlotte wasn’t romantic and knew how to deal with him so was happy to have her own home. Thank goodness things have changed so much now although I wouldn’t say no to Mr Darcy!!!!

December 3, 2015 5:41 PM

I have always thought Charlotte was clever, at least in regards to securing her future with Collins. She did not interfere with the Bennet girls suitor until and after he had left them far behind. In fact, Collins got the perfect wife for him in the end. Well done, Charlotte! Thanks for the interesting article Elizabeth.

CJ Mobley
CJ Mobley
December 3, 2015 4:41 PM

I love your take on Charlotte. She was one of my favorite characters in PandP. So sensible. I like that. I think her age had a lot to do with her taking on Collins. Elizabeth was young and pretty and figured she had some choices. Charlotte at 27 was practically middle aged and needed to get settled with somebody with prospects. She got a nice home and situation in life and could control Collins without him really realizing it. She would have been a great CEO.

Linda A.
Linda A.
December 3, 2015 9:52 AM

The only physical description I found of Mr. Collins in P&P is that “He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal.” Along with: “The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head,…”. And we also know he is a lousy dancer. So, physically he might not have been so bad, but it was his attitude and behavior that so many of us object to. If Charlotte was already managing her slightly embarrassing, chatty father then I am sure she was able to handle Mr. Collins. While Elizabeth was used to her own father who was quiet and intelligent and rarely embarrassed her.

As I grew up (and did not marry), I heard that girls find husbands just like their fathers, while boys marry women like their mothers. Sounds like Charlotte and Elizabeth both managed that, but Elizabeth had to take the chance that she would become the governess to Jane’s (hoped for) children instead of having to marry just because she “should”. Maybe if Elizabeth had been 27 at the time of Mr. Collins proposal, she might have accepted him; but at 20, she still had hope of a happy marriage instead of an annoying husband.

As we saw in P&P, Charlotte did manage to handle Mr. Collins quite well. I admire her patience with both him and Lady C. I agree… I don’t think I could have done it.

Jennifer Redlarczyk
December 3, 2015 9:20 AM

I loved your review of Charlotte. I agree that this was her chance to be more independent, even if it meant being dependent on Collins. Her own house, children (ahem), potentially mistress of Longbourn were all really good choices for her considering the times. She really is a very strong person to endure what she had to with Collins & Lady Cat to achieve her goals. Hats off Charlotte. About that choice…. Ah, could we just give him a different look, you know, kind of first impression sort of thing before answering that question?

December 3, 2015 9:19 AM

What an interesting analysis, Elizabeth. Given the choices open to her in those times, which one of us could put our hand on our heart snd say we wouldn’t have done the same.

Given the opportunities and rights women have nowadays, it’s really hard to imagine what things would have been like for us 200 years ago.

Like you, I love reading about the carriages, clothes and conventions of those days but I’m also rather fond of 21st century health care, as well as the indoor plumbing and voting rights.

December 3, 2015 8:25 AM

Elizabeth, thank you for this interesting post!

December 3, 2015 7:11 AM

Mr. Collins is an excellent choice for a husband. I think he will manage his money better than Mr. Bennet does and will provide better for his children even with Longborne in the future. It isn’t an absolute certainty for Mrs. Bennet could die and Mr. Bennet marry a young woman who had a son. Also, Mr. Collins will relish speaking of his father and mother in law– Sir William and Lady Lucas. Sir William was a clever man in business and was made a mayor which suggests he had more qualities than shown in the story. However, when he was knighted he behaved as foolishly as Mr. Collins . Instead of staying with his commerce and in the circles he knew and where he was known, he gave up his business and started behaving as he thought titled people did to the detriment of his finances and his children. Charlotte is used to her parents vagaries so won’t be as disturbed by Collins’s as some would be. I also think she has been accustomed to keeping her thoughts and opinions to herself except when she could visit with Elizabeth.
This is fiction so Elizabeth gets rewarded for turning down Mr. Collins. In real life she would be a spinster living in her childhood home as companion to Charlotte , and unofficial governess to the children.

Debbie Fortin
December 3, 2015 6:45 AM

What an interesting post. I always thought Charlotte was a good manager, able to manage Collins, but never thought of her as CEO material. I agree with Joana….it was so funny, your saying you couldn’t have ended up being married to Collins without ending up in prison. Women had no choice back then and boy am I glad we do now. My dad liked a Collins type and tried to hook us up ass he thought he was right for me. I would definitely have ended up in jail had I been forced to marry him. He was also a whiner. I like Charlotte immensely. She waited until her friends decided against Collins and she was there to pick up and mend the pieces of his ‘broken heart’ (tongue in cheek). She made the logical decision…much better than being a spinster.

Joana Starnes
December 3, 2015 4:38 AM

Loved this wonderful post, Elizabeth! I wholeheartedly agree with you about Charlotte, and what a brilliant way to put it. I was in stitches when you said you couldn’t have been married to Mr Collins without ending up in prison, but that for Charlotte he was a chance to be grabbed with both hands, the equivalent of going back to the ’20 year high school reunion, 15 pounds lighter in designer clothes and sporting a rich husband’ 😀

I think that’s exactly the point, the only way to understand Austen characters and their choices is to forget for a while about our modern-day advantages and the wealth of choices available to women in our society. Compared to living on handouts from a family member (sometimes grudgingly given), to being a governess or ending up in poverty like Miss Bates, managing Mr Collins and his household wasn’t such a bleak fate after all. I respect Charlotte’s choices and her loyalty to Elizabeth and the Bennets, she’s a great friend and a remarkable woman. Not sure I could have put up with Mr Collins either, but hats off to her!

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