How could Charlotte Lucas, best friend to Lizzie Bennet choose such an odious partner? Surely this choice, the choice made by our pragmatic Charlotte for Clawing Mr Collins, has been gasped at through the centuries by countless readers of Pride and Prejudice.
Recall Charlotte says, “I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I only ask for a comfortable home”. Surely Jane Austen is making a comment on the choices that women must make in such an unfair and patriarchal world. Highlighting such limited and odious choices suggests Austen’s feminist credentials.
Charlotte Lucas is a smart and likeable character but she feels she must make such a choice. Will this spell the end of the friendship between the pragmatic Charlotte and the more principled Elizabeth? It may seem like it. But Austen shows the ability of friendships to endure such differences. Upon visiting the newly married Charlotte, Elizabeth sees that Charlotte, with respect to her husband, has maintained her own sphere, managed to spend time without her husband and Elizabeth is able to concede, “When Mr Collins could be forgotten, there really was a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be forgotten quite often.”
The friendship was safe. If there is one continuing theme throughout the Austen six it is that those that judge others are the ones most likely to be laughed at and suffer a fall. Despite Elizabeth’s abhorrence at Charlotte’s choice they remained friends. And Austen has made it clear that women, without the ability to build their own financial independence, must suffer such fools as husbands for the sake of ‘a comfortable home‘.