Here I am, still celebrating the Bicentenary. If Pride and Prejudice had 200 years of success so far, I can celebrate it for a looong while, can't I?
So, I've been unboxing Charlotte Lucas for a while now.
unbox - remove from a box or container;
"unbox the presents"
unpack, take out - remove from its packing;
"unpack the presents"
When I first read P&P some ten years ago (for me) it felt like Charlotte betrayed Lizzy when she accepted Collins. Actually she ensnared Collins behind Lizzy’s back without any fore notice. Not that Lizzy wanted anything from Collins other than distance but the guy had just proposed to her and before his shame and anger got cold Charlotte jumped on the occasion.
Lately, this episode was very well portrayed at the ‘Lizzie Bennet Diaries’ and it can be seen even more clearly as a betrayal.
Of course we all know Charlotte’s reasons, how she was already considered lost and old and without any good possibility of marriage. I’ve been reading some great discussions on her instance in life and the predicament she was in. Being the daughter of a knight (albeit a poor one), former mayor of Meryton and tradesman, Charlotte couldn’t marry just anyone. It would be a disgrace for her family status if she married a workman; the chance to marry a rich man was thin so she could only marry ‘horizontally’.
Everyone knows that becoming a governess was a most undesired situation since the job was underpaid, considered ‘low help’ something between a ladies’ maid and a butler. Other than this, an unmarried woman would depend on her father for as long as he lived, once deceased the woman (along with her mother and any other unmarried sisters) would be divided among the family men.
The Lucases were a big enough family and surely Charlotte would end her life helping raise her nephews and nieces, living under the good graces of one of her brothers. Well, the first moves of Sense & Sensibility tell us just how graceful these good graces can be. Marrying was THE option.
Charlotte saw in Collins her best chance. Rothman says very eloquently that ‘Collins, you might feel, isn’t quite a real person. He’s more like a villain: so awful that he makes you wonder whether Charlotte’s sensible, intelligent plan might be a mistake. In an odd way, Collins’s awfulness and Charlotte’s pragmatism take the measure of one another: in order to make Charlotte’s pragmatism feel problematic, Austen has to make Collins really terrible; and, by the same token, in order to make marriage to Collins even remotely plausible, she has to make Charlotte almost unbelievably pragmatic.’
He says ‘plan’ and ‘pragmatism’ and that called my attention because it reinforces what I’ve been mulling over Charlotte for a while now. Later I’ll talk about ‘Charlotte’s pragmatism feeling problematic’.
The other day we had a very happy JAFF lovers’ meeting and we discussed how Lizzy lacked ‘emotional intelligence’. IN MY OPINION Lizzy was a princess who was raised as her father’s pearl, used to be referred as ‘the best’ sister.
‘…more than once during dinner did Mr. Bennet say voluntarily to Elizabeth: ‘I am glad you are come back, Lizzy.’’
When there came a party of people whose social status was obviously superior to her, it was only natural she would feel vulnerable. So, when Darcy shoves his foot inside his mouth without caring if he was overheard by anyone at the Assembly, Lizzy feels mortally wounded.
Ok, I would grit my teeth and curse all his seven previous generations but if Lizzy had more emotional intelligence she would have handled his superior bullshit with more maturity. And that probably wouldn’t have given us such a delicious story as Pride and Prejudice. I know.
My point is that Charlotte HAS emotional intelligence. Newark has a very good essay on Charlotte’s and Fanny Price’s actions that says: ‘The essence of independence for a woman lies not in being able to say 'No,' but in being able to take positive action to affect her own life. This is where choice comes in, and it is Charlotte, not Fanny, who exercises it. I warm to Charlotte Lucas (who has never in her life received a proposal of marriage) because, instead of passively resigning herself to what fate is dishing out, as a dutiful female should, she gives fate a nudge. It is Charlotte, not Fanny, who takes responsibility for her own life. Fanny, in floods of tears, says 'No;' Charlotte, dry-eyed, says "Yes!' Not only does she make up her own mind and act on it, she then makes the best of it. Miss Austen tells us nothing to make us think that Charlotte regrets her choice. ‘
On the contrary, Ms Austen tells us how well Charlotte handled Collins. Again it makes me think of ‘plan’ and ‘pragmatism’. I would also use ‘objective’, ‘conniving’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘insightful’. Conniving not in a derogatory sense, mind you.
Remember these sequences? They say it all.
‘Charlotte’s first letters (after her marriage to Mr. Collins) were received with a good deal of eagerness (by Elizabeth); there could not but be curiosity to know how she would speak of her new home, how she would like Lady Catherine, and how happy she would dare pronounce herself to be; though, when the letters were read, Elizabeth felt that Charlotte expressed herself on every point exactly as she might have foreseen. She wrote cheerfully, seemed surrounded with comforts, and mentioned nothing which she could not praise.’
‘Mr. Collins invited them (Mr. Lucas, Maria Lucas and Elizabeth who had just arrived from Hertfordshire) to take a stroll in the garden, which was large and well laid out, and to the cultivation of which he attended himself. To work in this garden was one of his most respectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired the command of countenance with which Charlotte talked of the healthfulness of the exercise, and owned she encouraged it as much as possible.’… ‘While Sir William accompanied him (Mr. Collins in a stroll around his garden), Charlotte took her sister and friend over the house, extremely well pleased, probably, to have the opportunity of showing it without her husband’s help. (…). When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really an air of great comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten.’
Next post I keep
babbling talking about my view of Charlotte and Lizzy.
See you soon,
Disclaim: Images found on google, Charlotte montage done by me, quotes from Ms Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice, rambling also mine.