This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on 20 May 2021. Enjoy!
I think Charlotte Lucas is underrated. Do you agree? Readers of Pride and Prejudice tend to overlook Charlotte as a minor character who serves little purpose but in my opinion this is a mistake. Charlotte is a strong character in her own right, and she also serves as a warning and as a plot device. Simply put, without Charlotte Lucas there would be no Pride and Prejudice! Let’s take a closer look at this secondary but crucial character.
First, Charlotte is set up almost as an anti-heroine to Elizabeth. She is rather plain in appearance and she is twenty seven years old, so she’s an old maid in regency terms, unlike Elizabeth, who is both attractive and young. Charlotte’s father is a bit of a name dropper and social climber, so her continuing singlehood is probably somewhat disappointing. Unless something changes, all she can look forward to is a lifetime of being a burden on her family.
Charlotte is a keen observer of her surroundings and a good judge of character. She notices Darcy’s interest in Elizabeth long before Elizabeth does, while they are still in Meryton, and she suspects it again at Hunsford. She is also the one who realizes that Jane is not doing enough to encourage Bingley and predicts that her reticence may have dire consequences.
Despite the friendship between Elizabeth and Charlotte they look at love and marriage entirely differently. Elizabeth is still young and idealistic, and she insists that she will only marry someone she is in love with. But Charlotte, being older and more cynical, knows that love might never happen. Her unmarried state has driven her to extreme practicality, so she will accept any husband who is respectable and can provide a decent living, even if she doesn’t care for the man personally. In this way Charlotte serves as a warning. She is the woman in the mirror, the image of who Elizabeth may become if she does not find someone who meets her high standards.
But Charlotte is also critical to the entire plot of Pride and Prejudice! Think about what would change in the story if Charlotte did not exist:
- We would have very little idea that Darcy admires Lizzy in Meryton. We might wonder what he is thinking, but without Charlotte’s astute observations we would be as clueless as Elizabeth.
- Mr. Collins would still propose to Elizabeth, and she would still turn him down. But then, in all likelihood, Collins would propose to Mary. The Bennet’s financial worries would be over!
- With no married friend to visit, Elizabeth would never go to Hunsford. She and Darcy would likely never see each other again.
Most importantly, without Charlotte there would be no window into what life looks like when one marries respectably but without affection. One of the main themes in the novel is the idea of marrying for love versus marrying for more practical considerations. In Charlotte’s marriage we see that the ideal marriage should unite both.
What do you think of Charlotte? Did anything written here make you think differently about her? Please tell me below!