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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

On marriage, Charlotte Lucas and Fanny Price (and Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Fairfax)

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/02/on-charlotte-lucass-choice.html
http://www.jasnanorcal.org/ink5.htm

From the 2nd article: 
"... there seem to be two camps -- those who speak up for Charlotte Lucas and have little time for Fanny; and those whose ideal is Fanny Price, to whom Charlotte is anathema.
What is the problem? Well, when Elizabeth Bennet refuses the proposal of Mr. Collins, the pompous, snobbish curate who is her father's heir, Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth's friend, deliberately sets out to catch him on the rebound, and succeeds. Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins, whom we consider no intelligent woman can like, let alone love, for the security he can give her and the home he can offer. The pro-Charlotte brigade, which includes some feminists, finds this eminently sensible.
On the other hand, Fanny Price, although a penniless dependent, refuses to marry the charming and wealthy Henry Crawford whom she has seen flirting with both her cousins simultaneously, and whom she neither likes nor respects. Despite Sir Thomas Bertram's bullying, she sticks to her guns. The pro-Fanny brigade, which includes some feminists, finds this admirable..."


It goes without saying that I like and admire Fanny Price (and disagree with Elizabeth Newark for thinking that Fanny refuses Henry Crawford mostly because she's head over heels in love with Edmund- in fact, with Edmund in love with Mary Crawford, there seems to be no hope for Fanny, she rejects Henry rather because of his character). However, at the same time I understand Charlotte Lucas, and whilst doubting that I will ever do a similar thing, do admire the way she considers all of her options, makes a decision and does something for her situation. Twice in "Pride and prejudice", Elizabeth Bennet says no to wealth. Charlotte cannot afford to do so.
Having little experience, I'm still aware that in life people have different ideas about marriage, different expectations- some prioritise love, some wish the spouse to be a friend as well or even a soulmate, some only ask for stability, some see marriage as a kind of rescue (from spinsterhood, poverty, or from their own poor, unfair country), some get married for the mere sake of getting married; some hope to share the same hobbies and interests and views with their spouse, some don't have such concerns as they talk about nothing but bills and the like. I'm also aware that a marriage I see as boring, from my point of view, does not necessarily bore the couple, and a marriage without love is not necessarily unhappy (it should be noted, too, that 2 people who love each other are not necessarily happy when married). And above all, I can think of at least 1 arranged marriage couple who have lived peacefully and contentedly with each other for decades and are still doing that now. Charlotte Lucas is different from Elizabeth Bennet and cannot be expected to act like Elizabeth- "I am not romantic, you know. I never was." She's pragmatic, but not mercenary and manipulative like Isabella Thorpe or hypocritical and scheming like Lucy Steele. She knows what she wants and what she needs, and acts on it, then accepts her own decision and makes the best of it.

Furthermore, some comments below the 1st article are worth some attention: 
"Mr. Collins presents with many characteristics which we now recognize as being similar to some of those typical of people on the high functioning or Apserger's end of the autistic spectrum eg tendency to monologue and focus on details, limited ability to convey empathy, reliance on "scripts" for conversation etc. However, since he is still a young man of only twenty-five years of age, his social awkwardness is likely to decrease especially since, for the first time in his life, the primary influence in his life will come from someone who is perceptive about others. Charlotte is already gently curbing his excessively formal and fawning manners. Once he inherits Longbourn so is removed from Lady Catherine's dominance, these will diminish further. He will have independence and a respected social position in a different community plus will profitably direct his energies and attention to detail towards improving not just a garden but an entire farm/estate (which has been somewhat neglected by Mr. Bennet as he retreated from social interaction and responsibility into his library). As the novel ends, both Mr. and Mrs. Collins have achieved the specific if limited goals they desired from marriage; therefore, basking in this small warm glow of success, they do not feel bitterness or resentment towards each other. They are content and treat each other pleasantly as they probably will throughout their marriage. Their future holds the promise of children, an increased income and the eventual return to Charlotte's former community." 

"Perhaps you are not giving credit to other things that Mr. Collins is not, while he may be appalling tedious, he is not cruel, he will not subject Charlotte to mental or physical torture, he is not a spender or a drinker, subjecting Charlotte to those kinds of worry, nor is he a womanizer, in short, he is a safe choice from a variety of perspectives that Charlotte has reasoned. It is as if she said the marriage is a crapshoot, and I choose the devil I know over the devil I don't know." 

In other words, it's perhaps not so bad after all, that is, for someone like Charlotte Lucas. I would even go as far as saying that there might be more hope in the marriage between her and that silly Mr Collins than in that between Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill. One knows what to expect. The latter is too uncertain.

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