The 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice is my absolute joy. It is my comfort food. If I’m having a bad day, I fire it up – and something about it makes me feel infinitely better. Maybe it’s the british accents, Matthew MacFayden and Keira Knightley, or just the beauty of the Austen world and it’s realization, but it has never failed to buoy my spirits.
That said, there’s this part that always makes my heart ache. It tightens my throat until I can barely breathe. It’s not anything to do with Elizabeth or Mr. Darcy, but rather with Charlotte Lucas. She’s so often overlooked, I find. She’s not a main character, and, as Mrs. Bennett so tactfully says, “There’s a spinster in the making, make no mistake”. But she does get one scene to shine: where she tells Elizabeth about her engagement to Mr. Collins, “the dreaded cousin”, “the sort of man who makes you despair at the entire sex”.
Not all of us can afford to be romantic.
This is what she tells Elizabeth and the reality of it is crushing. In their day, romance was hardly a factor in marriage, and certainly not for the lower to mid middle class, such as Charlotte and Elizabeth. And for people with their circumstances, not marrying meant no guarantee of income, shelter, or protection. It was a scary thing, as Charlotte points out. Charlotte, unfortunately, is not someone who can afford to reject a proposal. As a character, she is homely, and she’s reached an age where if it doesn’t happen now, it may never. It’s incredibly sad to think that she’s forgoing any chance at true love in exchange for a guarantee of stability, and that she was far from the only one to do so in her day. To think that romance and love was once a luxury, a bonus to marriage is saddening.
“I’m twenty-seven years old. I’ve no money, and no prospects. I’m already a burden to my parents. And I’m frightened. So don’t judge me, Lizzie. Don’t you dare judge me.”