Like many long-time readers of “Pride and Prejudice,” I’ve returned, again and again, to the problem of Charlotte Lucas. Pretty much everyone in “Pride and Prejudice” gets the spouse they deserve, except for Charlotte. Elizabeth’s best friend is a sensible, intelligent person, but because she isn’t young, pretty, or rich, she ends up married to the maddening and empty-headed Mr. Collins. (Lizzy calls him, in a letter to her sister, a “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man.”) “Pride and Prejudice” is a joyous novel, but Charlotte’s marriage is like the tomb in that Poussin painting “Et in Arcadia ego.” Even at Pemberley, I am here, it seems to say.
I first read “Pride and Prejudice” in high school, and back then I didn’t devote a lot of thought to Charlotte’s marriage. As time has gone on, though, it’s seemed more and more important to me. Growing older involves making compromises, and I suppose that has something to do with it. But I’ve also become more familiar with the importance, in life, of choice. In a lot of ways, that’s what “Pride and Prejudice” is about: how we make choices. And no story in the novel says more about choices, about their difficulty and meaning, than Charlotte’s. Continue reading “On Charlotte Lucas’s Choice”