Charlotte Lucas did right.

16 Sep

The Bible notwithstanding, Pride and Prejudice is the second-most authoritative book on courtship in an evangelical girl’s library (the first being the beloved IKDG).  I have yet, at least in an internet forum, to come across a single Christian woman who doesn’t look to P&P as a blueprint for how to do relationships right.  When confronted with the idea that P&P contains a heavy dose of female fantasy (the protagonist, a poor farm girl, marries the wealthiest, most handsome man in the county; he is so besotted that he still loves her despite her giving him a scathing browbeating upon his first proposal), most Christian girls will defend the book because the characters have character and show “growth.”  This allows the book to escape being lumped into the shameful romance novel category.

My criticisms aside, P&P does rise far above the typical Harlequin, in part due to its literary value, and (in my opinion) largely due to its incisive take on human nature.  Part of the reason that the novel still resonates nearly 200 years later is that Austen captured human nature accurately, and human nature doesn’t change.  Everyone knows a Mrs. Bennet, a Miss Bingley, a Lydia Bennet, a Lady Catherine, a Wickham, and so on.

One character who is rarely discussed, though, is Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend Charlotte Lucas.  The novel tells us that Charlotte is 28 years old, single, and plain.  In rural early 19th-century England, her chance of marrying is all but gone. In contrast to Elizabeth, who at age 20 refuses to marry pragmatically, Charlotte believes that love in marriage is hit-or-miss, and that it is better not to know too much about one’s spouse prior to marriage, since husband and wife are bound to drift apart and annoy each other, anyway.

When Elizabeth vehemently rejects a proposal from her cousin Mr. Collins, a clueless, pompous clergyman, Charlotte swoops in and snags him.  Elizabeth is shocked upon finding out and can’t believe Charlotte would give the doofus the time of day, but Charlotte calmly reminds Elizabeth that she is not a romantic and that given Mr. Collins’s material assets and social standing, she figures her chance at happiness is as good as anyone else’s who marries for love.

Shortly after Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins, Elizabeth visits her friend for a few weeks, and through her eyes Austen reveals that Charlotte deals with her marriage by intrepidly avoiding her obnoxious husband whenever possible and politely not seeing his faults otherwise.  She is depicted as a tolerant and intelligent wife, if one who openly settled for a man she didn’t love.

I’ve seen some commentary that is critical of Charlotte – if Elizabeth is Austen’s mouthpiece, then Austen herself looked down on Charlotte’s choice to marry Mr. Collins – but I can’t hate on her.  Charlotte, old by the standard of the time and not pretty, had two options:  either remain a spinster and continue to live at home with virtually zero hope of ever marrying, or marry an obnoxious lunk and get to be mistress of her own house.  I think she made the right choice.  Collins is not depicted as type who would notice that his wife had very little affection for him; in fact, he comes off as kind of asexual.  The world is not everyone’s oyster, and given the circumstances, I think both characters made out about as best they could.  It would have been very difficult for Mr. Collins to find a wife who would have fallen in love with him, and nobody was beating a path to Charlotte’s door otherwise.

Would I encourage a modern-day Charlotte Lucas to make the same choice?  Maybe.  If marriage is what she really wants and she understands its obligations and is prepared to fulfill them, then I don’t see the harm in accepting the non-ideal but only offer on the table.  The success of a marriage is due largely to the actions of both parties after the vows.  If the actions are good, I think both people will be better off than if they had remained single.  Not that even this is easy to find in these non-self-sacrificing times….

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55 Responses to “Charlotte Lucas did right.”

  1. sdaedalus September 16, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Haley, would you make this choice yourself?

    There must be plenty of Mr Collinses about who are interested in you.

    Or do you think that the Lucas way only works for a particular type of girl?

  2. Toz September 16, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    Nice thought. I would add to this:

    “Would I encourage a modern-day Charlotte Lucas to make the same choice? Maybe. If marriage is what she really wants and she understands its obligations and is prepared to fulfill them, then I don’t see the harm in accepting the non-ideal but only offer on the table.”

    Wanting children should also be a consideration. Almost certainly, a horrible marriage is better than being a single mom.

  3. Aunt Haley September 16, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    Almost certainly, a horrible marriage is better than being a single mom.

    I’d like to see you get in a fight with some feminists over this. Ha.

  4. Aunt Haley September 16, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    The Charlotte/Collins union is pretty extreme, but I think you have to have the combination of pragmatism and loyalty that Charlotte had if it’s going to work. Otherwise you’ll eventually just develop a crush on someone else and destroy the marriage.

  5. sdaedalus September 16, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    You see, Haley, the problem is that we haven’t seen Mr Collins & Charlotte 10 years down the line. How do we know it lasted? Well, it probably did, but how do we know Charlotte didn’t regret it.

    Also, a lot of Charlotte’s motivation was simple economic survival after her parents’ death, which wouldn’t necessarily apply to women today.

    Re children, I’m not sure if it’s really that good for a child to have a mother who feels or, rather, doesn’t feel, about their father as Charlotte does about Mr Collins. There seems to be some assumption that women who want a child are entitled to have one. My view is that marrying a man you don’t particularly like (never mind love) just to have a child is a travesty not that far removed from the whole sperm-donor thing.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that Charlotte is attracted to Mr Collins (stranger things have happened, her own father was not dissimilar to him after all) but doesn’t want to admit it in case Elizabeth would laugh at her.

    A good lasting marriage, in my view, was that of the Admiral & Mrs Croft in Persuasion.

  6. Joseph Dantes September 16, 2010 at 12:09 pm #

    You lost me at maybe.

    It’s a symptom of decadence, that you would view spinsterhood as an acceptable alternative to settling.

  7. sdaedalus September 16, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    @Joseph Dantes

    There’s settling (which often just involves the realisation that it’s not worth holding out for Brad Pitt and what’s on offer is pretty damn near as attractive in its own unique way anyway) and then there’s settling in the sense of getting together with someone you’re not even a little bit attracted to, don’t even like, have nothing in common with and really kind of despise.

    That second kind of settling (and there are many many degrees in between) isn’t really doing the other person any favors. In fact, it’s somewhat insulting. They might actually be able to get someone who liked them. Why should anyone settle for less?

  8. Aunt Haley September 16, 2010 at 4:05 pm #

    If the woman doesn’t meet the criteria I mentioned, then yes, spinsterhood is an acceptable alternative to settling.

  9. jack September 16, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    Good advice, but we live in the age of luxury, convenience, and choices.

    We no longer live in the age of pragmatism.

    Perhaps a future generation will make more informed choices someday.

  10. Joseph Dantes September 16, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    Pragmatism and loyalty can be developed by taking the plunge even if one doesn’t initially possess them. They are more qualities of choice than personality.

    As for crushes destroying the marriage, those who burn with lust are SUPPOSED to marry.

    Of course this would all be easier if women could satisfy their hypergamous instinct by becoming second wives etc.

  11. Joseph Dantes September 16, 2010 at 11:46 pm #

    It’s not insulting. Maybe to a woman it would be. A man would be more likely to feel grateful and try harder. With men, loyalty > rapport.

    Despising someone is a form of contempt, which implies superiority. Marrying and submitting to that person would go a long way towards inculcating humility.

  12. Joseph Dantes September 16, 2010 at 11:57 pm #

    Frankly I’m surprised that after everything’s said and done on this blog the women here still don’t know how to just settle.

    Which is really the only relevant point that needs to be learned on the topic of Christian singleness.

    It just goes to show that decadent ages produce endless talking without action.

    From speaking with the older people I’ve known, it’s clear that previous more pragmatic generations managed to settle without the benefit of game or the internet.

  13. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    Or, in the more primal fear of the ancient Israelite woman: “Barren wombs make lonely tombs.”

  14. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 12:18 am #

    Seriously SD, how off can you be? The concept of a woman who despises me but still submits to me as I bang her is kind of hot. It’s the only way I would ever consider doing a liberal chick.

    Whether I’m banging a chick who’s better than I deserve, or I’m playing Big Bad Wolf to Red Riding Hood, or I’m exercising power and cruel dominion over someone who richly deserves the abuse and masochistically desires it, it’s all in good fun.

  15. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    Men and women value different things in an exclusive LTR.

    Men’s worst: girl’s ugly, cuckolds him.

    Women’s worst: man’s low-status, doesn’t love her.

    I’ve heard too many times women justify not settling by saying “We’re not compatible, he wouldn’t want me cuz I wouldn’t respect him, I have no attraction.” In fact, I think that was the gist of what Elizabeth said to Collins.

    Well, he doesn’t really care about that. Sure it’ll hurt a little bit, but the pain will be fully offset by banging a hotter, loyal wife.

    Guys can get along with each other just fine by respecting the power dynamics and hierarchy without any concern about how well they actually like each other. In fact worrying about that rapport stuff is considered gay.

  16. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    Damn, while we’re at it…

    For women, respect means “validate, include in herd, affirm, rapport.”

    For men, respect means “include in pack hierarchy at appropriate place.” For subordinates, this involves never making public challenges, obedience and submission.

    Just so nobody gets confused about what I mean by a loyal, respectful wife. I’m using the MALE meanings.

  17. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 1:41 am #

    Aaand I managed to turn this whole thing into a discussion of pimps, gangbanging, and why men don’t respect sluts.

  18. sdaedalus September 17, 2010 at 5:12 am #

    @Joseph Dantes
    The concept of a woman who despises me but still submits to me as I bang her is kind of hot

    I’ve heard too many times women justify not settling by saying “We’re not compatible, he wouldn’t want me cuz I wouldn’t respect him, I have no attraction.” In fact, I think that was the gist of what Elizabeth said to Collins.

    Well, he doesn’t really care about that. Sure it’ll hurt a little bit, but the pain will be fully offset by banging a hotter, loyal wife.

    And there I was feeling sorry for the guys whose wives bitch about them behind their backs. Silly me.

    Still, it goes to prove the truth of the maxim that people end up with the kind of relationships which, irrespective of what they may say, they really want.

  19. namae nanka September 17, 2010 at 6:19 am #

    “And there I was feeling sorry for the guys whose wives bitch about them behind their backs. ”

    All good wives do so and then turn to putty before the man.

    “The concept of a woman who despises me but still submits to me as I bang her is kind of hot”

    Hot Hot

  20. dalrock September 17, 2010 at 6:43 am #

    Great post Haley. A thoughtful consideration of a very complex issue.

    I think the problem with the model you propose is that in order for the woman to know she wasn’t harming the man she would have to know that he didn’t have any options. This goes directly against her need to “politely not see his faults”.

    There might be a crease she can slip through if she recognizes that he would in fact have other options, and simply dedicates herself to making the man happy whether she loves him or not. Basically she needs to take 100% responsibility for her choice to marry without loving him, recognizing that her inability to love any man who loves her is a defect in her own character. But if she were so profoundly self aware and honest, wouldn’t she be able to just fix the defect and the problem is solved in a much better way for all parties?

  21. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    “guys whose wives bitch about them behind their backs.”

    That’s a form of disrespect in the male sense. Albeit an indirect one.

  22. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 7:52 am #

    HAH. “Very complex.” The vaj-squid swells and expels squirting clouds of self-justifying ink, jetting away from anti-hypergamic behavior and personal responsibility.

    It’s very simple:

    1. Beta Suitor wants to bang Picky 4.
    2. Picky 4 chooses to let him.

    The rest will naturally work itself out, as long as Picky 4 continues in her sexually accessible resolve.

    No man will ever interpret refusal to bang as respect, or submission to bang as disrespect.

    Wives used to understand this: wifely duties.

  23. sdaedalus September 17, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    my point is that if you marry someone you aren’t attracted to AND don’t like or respect, you inevitably end up disrespecting them to others.

    Attraction to a man might allow a marriage to work in its own peculiar way even if the woman doesn’t actually like him much

    and

    the sufficiently strong-willed women among us might be able to make a marriage work on liking without attraction,

    but

    the combination of lack of liking as a person and lack of attraction is a killer.

    Sooner or later a woman who neither likes nor is attracted to her husband is going to act out, even if it’s only in terms of bitching.

    Possibly a really strong-willed woman might be an exception where the marriage gives
    (a) status
    (b) economic benefit
    (c) children (I am dubious about this one, it might actually make things worse)

  24. y81 September 17, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Possibly Charlotte Lucas made the right choice for her time and place. (It’s hard to know, given that I have neither read the book nor lived in the 18th century.) But it’s hard to visualize a marriage where the parties neither like nor love nor lust for each other as being a good idea, or even viable.

    To make such a marriage work, I think one would have to have:
    1. A family income such that the family never even thought about financial pressures. (In Manhattan, I would put that at about $500,000 per year, though it could be less in other places.)
    2. Two people with low sex drives. (Because obviously, you aren’t going to be having sex that often with someone you don’t like or love or lust for.)
    3. Two people with a very strong “separate spheres” ideology, i.e., Dad supplies money and sperm, Mom is totally in charge of the house and children, Dad watches football, Mom reads mysteries in another room, etc.

    I doubt that very many couples living today can fulfill all these criteria. If people who don’t like each other are forced to live together and deal with financial and child-raising issues while in a state of sexual frustration, that situation simply won’t last.

  25. Aunt Haley September 17, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    I don’t want to speculate on Mr. Collins’s sex drive (EWW), but I’m sure Charlotte was mentally prepared to grin and bear it for the 15 total minutes per week she had to.

    The novel also doesn’t seem to indicate that Mr. Collins doesn’t like Charlotte. He is depicted as a “love the one you’re with” type. Because the Bennet family has no sons, the property must go to the closest male relative when Mr. Bennet passes away. This relative is Mr. Collins. Collins initially wants to marry one of the Bennet daughters in order to keep the property in the family. He first goes after Jane, the prettiest and oldest sister, but since Mrs. Bennet feels confident that Jane will be able to snag Mr. Bingley (Darcy’s slightly less wealthy BFF), Mr. Collins then turns to Elizabeth and clumsily tries to woo her. After Charlotte snaps him up, he turns all of his energy toward her. He is really that oblivious that he can’t read signals from women at all, nor does he seem to care.

  26. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Dal, I imagine your id as a combination of the Humboldt squid who attacked this diver and the tentacled chaos lords from HellBoy I, a manifestation of Camille Paglia’s cthonian.

    With that out of the way, I honor our disagreement in heroic verse:

    Neer boneless coiled suction can crush my soul’s wit
    Nor panicked jet-vasion elude my right grip
    I plunge my harpoon through the saucer eyed squid
    Man over Cthon rampant; woman submit.

    In hope that your id will return to the proportions of the Humboldt’s smaller, luminescent, adorable cousins,
    JD

  27. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    There’s nothing inevitable about disrespecting anyone to others. It’s a choice.

    No matter how bad he is, most men will be greatly improved and mollified by a woman who treats him with calm submissive respect.

    And most women will warm up to a man who’s giving her regular injections, especially if he bangs her pregnant.

  28. dalrock September 17, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    JD, you’ve been playing too much dungeons and dragons.

    Try getting a little sun, and maybe talk to a real girl every now and then.

  29. Aunt Haley September 17, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    He certainly loves the “reply” button. :>

  30. dalrock September 17, 2010 at 1:16 pm #

    He is depicted as a “love the one you’re with” type.

    Is there another type of man? Men don’t typically pine away for the unobtainable. There are a few basement dwellers who tell themselves they could only be happy with Miss January, but these guys aren’t as common outside the internet as you might think.

    This is what men don’t understand when they tell women to settle. They think this means the woman will adjust her expectations from absurd to realistic and learn to love and be happy with a real life man at her own SMV. Many (most?) women can do this, but they aren’t the ones men usually are telling to settle.

    Taking this back to your original post, Charlotte Lucas didn’t have any better options than the man she married, and she’d allowed plenty of time to pass to make sure she wasn’t jumping the gun. Her SMV simply wasn’t all that. She wasn’t settling. She was marrying an equal.

  31. Cane Caldo September 17, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    And here I thought I had a special talent.

  32. Joseph Dantes September 17, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    In fact, one is cooking breakfast for me now, while I try to wake up to your tepid wit.

  33. Aunt Haley September 17, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    She wasn’t settling. She was marrying an equal.

    Please tell me you haven’t read the book. Mr. Collins would be a punishment to any woman above a 1.

  34. Aunt Haley September 17, 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    Breakfast at night? Are you IHOP?

  35. Joseph Dantes September 18, 2010 at 1:07 am #

    The Earth is not flat…

  36. Purple Tortoise September 18, 2010 at 5:08 am #

    And you think plain, old maid Charlotte Lucas wouldn’t be a “punishment” for Mr. Collins?

    You’ve overestimated Charlotte’s marriage market value. If men better than Mr. Collins weren’t taking what was offered, then Charlotte Lucas was not at that level.

    Both men and women overestimate their market value, but it hurts women more because they have a shorter shelf life.

  37. Joseph Dantes September 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm #

    It has come to my attention that Dalrock is at least nominally male. I never would have guessed. My poem makes little sense in this newly gendered context.

  38. Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life September 18, 2010 at 2:35 pm #

    And you know how men just love their one sexual outlet grimmacing and bearing it. :-(

  39. Aunt Haley September 18, 2010 at 3:04 pm #

    Hey, now. I didn’t say grimacing. I said GRINNING.

  40. d September 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    Actually, I know a couple who married because they were both getting older and both wanted children. It was the worst thing they could have done. They were miserable together, having awful fights that impacted their very young daughters. They split, and are still, nearly twenty years later, in legal wranglings over money and custody issues. Worst of all, the kids have been caught in the middle. Their father has moved far away, in part to escape his ex-wife, and now the girls only get to see him infrequently. They married because they thought their mutual desires would be enough, but it couldn’t compensate for the fact that they were two incredibly different people who should never have married.

    Collins is disengaged enough that Charlotte can be pretty autonomous and carry on as she wishes. The couple I know were anything but disengaged. Such an arrangement only works with certain personality types.

  41. Joseph Dantes September 18, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    This anecdote would be evidence against incompatibility, not settling.

    Settling means lowering your SMV threshold, not marrying someone incompatible.

    Collins and Charlotte had quite similar values.

  42. Joseph Dantes September 18, 2010 at 9:48 pm #

    That’s because women are hypergamic, Haley.

    If they had their druthers they’d only mate with the top 60% of the male population, period.

    Settling is anti-hypergamic…

  43. Thursday September 19, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    Men don’t typically pine away for the unobtainable.

    Totally wrong. There’s even pick up term for it: oneitis.

  44. dalrock September 19, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    Totally wrong. There’s even pick up term for it: oneitis.

    The pickup term oneitis, and most men being “Love the one you are with” types don’t seem to be at odds.

  45. Risky Business September 20, 2010 at 1:22 am #

    AH, for all the talk of “Game” and alpha vs. beta males, I recall a conversation I had with a pastor. I was talking about developing confidence and game and his response was that cherishing the girl works better. What an innovative perspective on relationships [sarcasm]!

    Anyways, just wanted to drop that thought and maybe get your thoughts on the biblical view of cherishing one’s spouse and how it relates to our modern day view of game.

  46. Aunt Haley September 20, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    Risky–

    I think there are two ways you can look at this:

    1) “Cherish” your wife by treating her like a princess – she deserves A+ treatment because you don’t deserve someone like her! She is literally God’s Gift to you, so you’d better treat her like her mama and daddy would want you to! Don’t screw this up!

    2) “Cherish” your wife by meeting her deepest psychological and emotional needs – being strong, firm, and decisive, yet tender and kind in your treatment of her. As a man, you are uniquely suited to fulfill these needs.

    As you can probably tell, I think (1) is the road to marital ruin, whereas (2) is not incompatible with Game principles. If your pastor meant (2), then you and he are on the same page.

  47. y81 September 20, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    I don’t see where (2) is remotely compatible with game principles: frequent negging, deliberate unpredictability and failure to reciprocate romantic gestures, etc., don’t qualify as “tender and kind”.

  48. Aunt Haley September 20, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    y81–
    You can be mean and cruel about it, or playful and sweet. Game is just a tool; it’s the execution that makes it good or bad. Most of Game techniques are really just social cues with a subtext of dominance, which is why women respond to Game.

  49. Joseph Dantes September 20, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Then your understanding of game is limited to initial pickup and penetrating bitch shields, not LTRs.

    You should read Daniel Rose’s The Sex God Method and http://hvren.wordpress.com for a more balanced understanding.

  50. Joseph Dantes September 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    Not coincidentally, you could substitute “how you bang her” for “how you treat her in your marriage” and the above would still work.

  51. y81 September 20, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

    Well, I have a hard time believing that someone operating with “the primary purpose of knocking bigheaded chicks off their royal, gilded vaj-shaped thrones” is being tender and kind. I also have a hard time believing that being a player, as opposed to being a real man, is consistent with Christian marriage or Christian life.

  52. dalrock September 20, 2010 at 9:50 pm #

    @Y81
    I also have a hard time believing that being a player, as opposed to being a real man, is consistent with Christian marriage or Christian life.

    Being a player certainly isn’t. Utilizing game can fall into either category though. Game is about a man making himself attractive to women. The best analogy is probably makeup and lingerie for women. A wife who wants to be attractive for her husband because she loves him is being a wonderful wife. This is true even though some women/wives would use the same tactics for less than honorable pursuits.

    If you want to know how best to excite a man, ask a hooker. Players are the ones who know game, so it has the taint of them. But in the end it all depends on who you are and how you use the knowledge.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Why is the marriage deck stacked against women? | Dalrock - September 18, 2010

    […] September 18, 2010 by dalrock Haley revisits the issue of settling in her thoughtful post titled Charlotte Lucas did right. She walks us through the plot of Pride and Prejudice to describe how a pragmatic woman might want […]

  2. Word Around the Campfire – the Foolproof Cure edition « Hidden Leaves - September 18, 2010

    […] Aunt Haley: What a woman thinks when a man doesn’t respond to her signal of attraction. and Charlotte Lucas did right. […]

  3. Linkage is Good for You: You’re Not Going to Read This Headline So Why Should I Make an Effort Edition (NSFW) - September 19, 2010

    […] Aunt Haley – “What a Woman Thinks When a Man Doesn’t Respond to Her Signal of Attraction.“, “Charlotte Lucas Did Right.” […]

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