Charlotte Lucas is one of the most important secondary characters in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. She is Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend and confidante, and she plays a crucial role in the plot by marrying Mr. Collins, the pompous and obsequious clergyman who is the heir to Longbourn, the Bennet family estate.
Charlotte’s views on marriage are very different from Elizabeth’s. While Elizabeth believes that marriage should be based on mutual respect, affection, and compatibility, Charlotte thinks that marriage is a matter of convenience, security, and pragmatism. She does not expect or desire romantic love, but rather a comfortable home and a respectable position in society.
Charlotte expresses her opinions on marriage several times in the novel, often in contrast to Elizabeth’s. For example, in Chapter 6, after Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins’s proposal, Charlotte says:
“Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
Elizabeth is shocked by Charlotte’s cynicism and argues that one should marry for love and respect, not for convenience or money. She says:
“You know it is not sound, and that you would never act in this way yourself.”
However, Charlotte proves her wrong by accepting Mr. Collins’s proposal shortly after he is rejected by Elizabeth. She does not care for his personality, his appearance, or his intellect, but she sees him as a good match for her situation. She is 27 years old, plain-looking, and without a fortune of her own. She knows that her chances of finding a better husband are slim, and she does not want to be a burden to her family or live as a spinster. She explains her decision to Elizabeth in Chapter 22:
“I am not romantic, you know; I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connection, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state.”
Elizabeth is dismayed by Charlotte’s choice and feels that she has betrayed her principles and sacrificed her dignity. She cannot understand how Charlotte can endure living with such a ridiculous man as Mr. Collins. However, when she visits Charlotte at Hunsford Parsonage in Chapter 28, she realizes that Charlotte has made the best of her situation. She has arranged her household to suit her own convenience and comfort, and she has learned to tolerate and manage her husband’s follies. She does not expect or demand much from him, but she respects his position and his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She is content with her lot and does not regret her decision.
Charlotte Lucas represents the realistic and pragmatic view of marriage that was common among women of her class and time period. She does not have the luxury or the opportunity to marry for love, but she does not despair or complain. She makes a rational choice based on her circumstances and expectations, and she finds happiness in her own way.