Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice: Character Analysis

Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
This lesson explores the character of Charlotte Lucas, Lizzy Bennet's best friend in Jane Austen's ''Pride and Prejudice''. Charlotte is intelligent, sensible...and above all, pragmatic. Her pragmatic nature influences both her philosophy and her choices in life.

Charlotte Lucas's Decision

Although the narrative of Pride and Prejudice is not centered on Charlotte Lucas, she's far from being a two-dimensional character. This is one of the greatest things about Jane Austen as a writer: she gives secondary characters dignity, personality, and hilariously human quirks. Charlotte's character - like those of the other figures in the novel - is revealed through her actions. The action of Charlotte's that has the biggest impact on her life, and on the plot, is her decision to marry Mr. Collins... of all people! Mr. Collins is both stupid and pompous; Charlotte herself is fully aware that he is 'neither sensible nor agreeable.' He does, however, want to get married. His first plan was to marry Jane, but she was taken. His second plan was to marry Lizzy, but she refused him.

Pride and Prejudice
p&p

It's easy to look at Charlotte's choice to marry Mr. Collins with disapproval. Lizzy thinks Charlotte is being foolish, and Lizzy is her best friend. It's easy to ask: What kind of person marries without loving - or even liking! - the other person? But there's a related question that could shed light on Charlotte's decisions and her motives: Would you work at a job you didn't like, if it was the only way to get the opportunities you wanted?

Charlotte Lucas Escapes Becoming an Old Maid

It's worth noting that Lizzy - passionate, sharp-witted, and sharp-tongued Lizzy - is the only person who disapproves of Charlotte's marriage. (Except Mrs. Bennet, of course, who is outraged that Lizzy herself refused Mr. Collins's proposal of marriage.) Jane Austen is careful to point out that this is not just the result of Mr. Collins shifting his romantic attentions yet again. Charlotte pursues Mr. Collins. She encourages him. Finally, she accepts his proposal of marriage 'from the pure and disinterested desire of an establishment.'

Early in the book, before Mr. Collins is even introduced, Charlotte tells Lizzy that she believes 'happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.' Since people grow apart anyway, Charlotte reasons, it's best to know as little as possible about another person's faults before making the decision to marry. Lizzy struggles to take Charlotte seriously... and struggles to believe her when she acts on her principles. Charlotte's reasoning is thoroughly logical, and a little bit heartbreaking. She believes strongly that marriage 'is the only honorable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune'.

Mr. Collins proposes to Charlotte
proposal

The thing we're told most often about Charlotte is that she is sensible. Being sensible, she goes about insuring her future. All of her family members are delighted. Her parents see her well-provided for, and her marriage takes a financial burden off of the family. This means that her sisters can come out into society and seek marriages of their own, earlier than expected. (There's considerable irony in the fact that they're ecstatic about this.) Her brothers, meanwhile, are relieved that they won't have to support her in her old age. Charlotte herself doesn't expect marriage to make her happy. She just wants - and needs - the security it offers.

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