Persuasions #11, 1989                                                                                                                                                          Page 18-19

Report on Persuasions Competition 1989


In Persuasions No. 10, readers were invited to comment whether they agreed with the serious criticisms of Charlotte Lucas’ decision to marry Mr. Collins which were quoted from the work of a modern author.  A number of responses were received, all supporting Charlotte’s decision.  The judges of the competition were Joan N. Brantz and Cheryl McNiece.  The identity of the persons responding was not known to the judges until their evaluations were reached.  The winner of the competition is Esther Schieldel of Lincoln, NE.  The runner-up is Margaret J. Larkin of Buffalo, NY.

The winning response is: 

Charlotte’s Choice

The “modern writer” who feels that Charlotte Lucas violates her moral integrity in marrying Mr. Collins seems a bit severe to me.  Charlotte is dealing with her life in a way that makes sense to her.  Mr. Collins was not a wicked man, and I therefore doubt if “contemptible” is the word Charlotte would use for him, nor would she feel it wrong to marry a man because he was merely foolish.

Charlotte accepts the traditional view of marriage – an arrangement between families on a basis of birth and income without consideration of personal feelings.  She is a foil for Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, champions of a newer point of view.  They believe that love, respect, and companionship are also required in marriage.1  Perhaps their observation of their own unharmonious parents had advanced their thinking.

Certainly Jane Austen presents Charlotte’s marriage as unfortunate, and her acceptance of Mr. Collins makes her a less attractive person than the novel’s protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet.  At the same time Charlotte’s action is made understandable and Charlotte herself earns a certain admiration.

Let us see what forces shaped Charlotte’s decision.  How could she marry Mr. Collins?

Charlotte had been brought up in a home where status “had perhaps been felt too strongly.2  Her father’s elevation to knighthood had revolutionized the family’s style of life and created a mold for the values of Sir William’s children.  Mr. Collins’ adulation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh could not have seemed half so offensive to Charlotte as it did to Elizabeth. Charlotte could live with some ease under the aegis of Lady Catherine, because she had been brought up to revere rank.  There is none of Elizabeth’s bristling reaction to that overbearing lady.

When explaining her sudden engagement to Mr. Collins, Charlotte confides to Elizabeth, “I am not romantic you know.  I never was.  I ask only a comfortable home;…I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the married state.”3

Mr. Collins offered what to Charlotte was a reasonable chance for a satisfying life.  And since she did not expect to find a lover or a kindred spirit in a husband, it would be hard to expect her to wait for someone who, as far as she was concerned, did not exist.

Furthermore she won the blessing of her family, who would have been eager for her to marry any man with Mr. Collins’ respectability and prospects.  She knew her brothers would be happy to escape supporting her as a spinster.

This brings us to our final and perhaps irrefutable defense of Charlotte.  The ugly alternative to marriage was spinsterhood, a state which promised to the average gentlewoman a life of penury and humiliation.  For example, had Elizabeth not married, she would have had to depend on the benevolence of male relatives.  Mr. Gardiner, perhaps?  Ironically, she might well have become dependent on the good will of the despised Mr. Collins, or she might have had to earn her livelihood as companion to some counterpart of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Charlotte, who was twenty-seven years old to Lizzie’s twenty, was already over the hill.  There was little chance of Charlotte’s finding any husband.  The prospect of an oppressive, unproductive life was closing in upon her.

And so, given Charlotte’s need and desire to have a position in life, given her pragmatic view of marriage, given the golden aura of family approval which attended her alliance, and given the bleak alternative to accepting his which attended her alliance, and given the bleak alternative to accepting his offer, how could Charlotte not marry Mr. Collins?   


1 Barbara W. Swords, “Women's Place in Jane Austen's England,”Persuasions 10 (1988), pp. 76-82.

2 Jane Austen,  Pride and Prejudice, (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltdl, 1972), p. 65

3 Austen, p. 165.

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