A Matter of Chance

Miss Charlotte Lucas is exactly the kind of friend every woman wishes to have. If you are so fortunate to have as your best friend a Charlotte Lucas type, you will never be in danger of being overshadowed by her, as this specimen is usually “not handsome enough” to draw the interest of a man on her first – you know, we women are quite sensitive on this point – and she never seeks attention, but rather, she enjoys to see you in the limelight (I’ve never met one). In that shadow where Charlotte Lucas has comfortably placed herself for all her life, she has had all the time to study people and their behaviour in society, thus maturing a particular sensibility that allows her to detect whatever becomes unusual in their actions and to see events before they do happen. She is the first one to perceive Darcy’s change in attitude towards her friend Elizabeth and she is quick to understand that Jane’s demureness will not be the right strategy to secure Bingley :

“..it is sometimes a disadvantage to be so very guarded. If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him; and it will then be but poor consolation to believe the world equally in the dark. There is so much of gratitude or vanity in almost every attachment, that it is not safe to leave any to itself. We can all begin freely—a slight preference is natural enough; but there are very few of us who have heart enough to be really in love without encouragement. In nine cases out of ten a women had better show more affection than she feels. Bingley likes your sister undoubtedly; but he may never do more than like her, if she does not help him on.” (Pride and Prejudice Chpt 6)

Being wise and not afraid of speaking her mind, she always tries to find the right words to warn and advice her friend Elizabeth, but as a modern Cassandra, she is hardly ever given consequence as the limelight often blunders.

Charlotte Lucas seems to know the rules of love better than any other girl, but she also knows that love is not her game; not any more. At 27, she does not allow herself any longer even to dream a meeting with her Prince Charming. She is well aware that she has got just a few cards left to play, if she wants to marry and avoid “being a burden” to her family. The search of love would reduce her chances to get a husband, well, any husband. There is no room for any deceitful romanticism for her. She truly believes that neither love, nor wealth or disposition can guarantee a happy marriage:

“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.” (Pride and Prejudice Chpt 6)

Soon after Charlotte convinces Elizabeth to sing before their friends and Darcy. Once again, while Lizzie enjoys the limelight, she quietly retreats in her shadow, but her remarks cannot be ignored. Are these words or wisdom or just the bitter conclusions of a disappointed young woman?  Of course, Elizabeth, who is six years younger and claims her right to marry for love, considers her speculations unreasonable and laughs at her. When you are 21, even 30 and your entire life is before you, Charlotte’s disquisition may sound ridiculous, but when you grow older and you can ponder on yours and even your friends’ relationships, would I still laugh at the idea that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance? I would not, and you?

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22 thoughts on “A Matter of Chance

  1. Loved this insight on Miss Charlotte, as she is indeed a ‘shadowed’ character (on purpose, it is clear now) who plays a subtle yet vital role in the whole Elizabeth-Darcy relationship.

    Thanks prof! 🙂

  2. Chance has its part to play undoubtedly. However, I do feel that having a knowledge of your future partner’s faults (and, indeed your own) does help. Its said that opposits attract and having some interests not shared by your partner can be a very healthy thing – however there does, I think need to be a sufficiency of common interest for a relationship to work. For example if one partner cares only about sport, while the other cares only about books, the relationship is hardly going to be one made in heaven.

    Kevin

    • You are right, but I think the right formula for happiness does not exist. It is mostly chance. I’ve seen “perfect” couple marry after years of engagement and divorce after few months and the most improbable pairs last everafter. Love, respect, curiosity, both common and different interests should be parts of a couple. When I met my husband, I was the one who loved sport, football and he , well, his closest activity to sport was ironing. Now he runs marathons ( but I don’t iron).😜

  3. I’d always been moved by the sadness of Charlotte Lucas’ story, and her necessary choice of the awful Mr Collins. And, even within that awful future, she manages to carve out a small space, a ‘woman’s room’ for herself. But I hadn’t taken in her perspicacity about Jane and Elizabeth, and will look out for this when I next re-read. Thanks for enlightening me!

  4. Not a great view of marriage or love . . .

    . . . but, I agree that nothing “happens” organically. That said, I can narrow it down to the formula I first heard voiced in the 80s but that I intuitively knew at an early age.

      • I don’t know why but I also had the same thought about Charlotte being a close representation of Jane herself. However, why would you say that the closest character to Jane is Mr. Collins? Before knowing more about Charlotte, I thought the closest would be Elizabeth, though with an happy ending (compared to the author).

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