I think some people look at Charlotte Lucas with an unnecessarily critical eye. When I think about living in Austen’s time (as I often do), I tend to think of it in terms of its grandeur and romantic qualities. I don’t really take the time to think about the confining standards of society, or the discomfort and damage done by a tight corset. For Austen’s heroines, her world is one of whirlwind romances, grand romantic gestures, and yes, unrealistically wealthy suitors.
As a fan base, we tend to focus on these fairy tale endings. But I think there is merit in acknowledging the secondary characters of Austen’s world, because they give us a glimpse into the sort of tough decisions that women and men were bound to make. I may not ever be able to truly experience Austen’s world–unless someone I don’t know about is working on creating an real-life Austenland, in which case I’ll be on a flight tomorrow–but I can imagine what the dilemma an unmarried woman of 27 years of age underwent with no prospects.
Marrying Mr. Collins was most likely the best thing that ever happened to Charlotte Lucas. He’s ridiculous and awkward with his delicate little compliments, but he’s well-meaning. It’s clear that Mr. Collins is not a Wickham, for he’s a clergyman bound by God to pursue goodness and prosperity for his congregation. But he’s the guy we all talk ourselves into because we don’t think the real thing will ever show up. Here’s five reasons we should all be a little bit easier on Mrs. Charlotte Collins.
1. She's honest.
We're all liars. I’m not going to deny that I lie from time to time, though I try never to lie about anything of consequence. But there are times when I wish I had a friend who would tell me when I’m being shallow or acting immaturely or cut me off at the bar instead of handing me yet another shot. I do have a few of these friends, and I cherish them dearly because honest people, truly honest people who will tell you everything you’re doing wrong and why, and so hard to find.
2. She's realistic.
She's not waiting for the dumb fantasy. She understands that she’s older and plain, and she’s accepted that reality. I could use a lot more of Charlotte Lucas inspiration in my life. I can frequently picture how a relationship with a new guy will pan out. Everything is so new and exciting in the beginning. But then I’ll obsess over what the relationship could be instead of accepting it for what it is. And then we’ll lose touch because whatever fantasy relationship I concocted in my head will never compare to anything in real life. It’s a vicious cycle that I live in, and I can see myself repeating it with guy after guy. At the very least, I recognize that I have a problem I need to work on fixing.
3. She perseveres.
It would have been so easy for Charlotte to bum hard about her life with Mr. Collins. Hell, I’m not sure I could’ve done it. Mr. Collins’s disposition would require the patience of a saint. Charlotte endured his follies and flaws, because again, she understood the reality of her situation. In her day and age, she was so fortunate to receive an offer of marriage.
She also didn’t give up on her friendship with Elizabeth just because she married a man Lizzy both rejected and disapproved of. It just so happened to work out that this friendship proved an unexpected connection to Elizabeth’s future husband through Mr. Collins’s patroness.
4. She's fun.
Charlotte is the girl I want to bring as my +1 to a wedding. That’s what a best friend is for. She would be the friend that holds your hair back when you’ve drank a bit too much and the friend that keeps you from going home with the sketchy DJ.
5. She's supportive.
Charlotte knew before anyone else that Mr. Darcy was in love with Elizabeth. She even encouraged Lizzy to give him a chance when he appeared prideful and vain. I think sometimes our truest and best friends can see something that we might not be able to see and/or admit yet.
Charlotte is a hell of a character. Yes. She settled for the ever-ridiculous Mr. Collins, but there weren’t enough options for single women back in the day. If I lived back then, I can’t say that I myself wouldn’t have made the same decision. If we’re going to point fingers and judge someone, let it be the society that prevented women from choosing between spinsterhood and marriage. Luckily, we’ve learned from our past mistakes, paving the way for our modern single girl.