Becoming Charlotte Lucas, or Thoughts on Pride and Prejudice

A new shop has opened up in my neighbourhood; it is called The Fairy Hut. I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment.

Now, I am a huge proponent of small businesses and new businesses and entrepreneurs, and I hope with all my heart that it is a success, but I can’t help wondering what the market is for, as they advertise, all things whimsical. It seems a bit niche to me, but perhaps there is a large demand for fairy-type objects. I have not been in it myself, but have walked past it with the dog many times, dying of curiosity. I have a lot of admiration for people who open up their own businesses; it’s very brave and demanding, I can imagine. I am not a person who takes those kinds of financial risks; more on that later. If you’re the type of person who does like fairy and/ or whimsical objects, then this might just be the place for you. I just hope that the owners have done their research in terms of fairy-related demand.

The name, however, brings to mind my high school job at Pizza Hut. I can still remember answering the phone over and over, Hunterhorn Pizza Hut, this is Nicole speaking, have you heard about our five-buck deal? Buy the first medium pizza at regular price, and the next three are only five bucks each! Then you would ultimately have to explain to grown people that no, you cannot pay regular price for a plain cheese pizza and then get a pizza loaded with eight toppings for five dollars. Then sixteen-year-old me, being paid $4.50 an hour, would be chastised over the phone by grown people who were too cheap to pay the extra three dollars for all the toppings that they wanted. Good times.

The boys have been in karate camp this week, which has been very enjoyable, albeit busier than normal, ironically. I think it’s all the extra driving, but on the upside it has given me a chance to think about an interesting piece I read about the most widely mocked character in Jane Austen’s books – Mrs. Bennett.

Are you a Jane Austen fan? I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was in a first-year English class in university, and I remember being immediately hooked. I loved everything about it; I loved the witty writing, I loved the little rituals and rules of society, and most of all I was interested in the economic situation of ladies of a certain standing. I was, after all, an economics student.

What fascinated me – and still fascinates me – is the idea of marriage as a financial decision. I suppose it can be true today as well, but imagine! Imagine spending your entire life learning to play the pianoforte or paint a half-decent picture, learning needlework and the art of conversation, and going for long walks on your property, and THAT IS IT. After spending your youth in that way, the best thing that could possibly happen would be for you to marry a man of means, because you would have absolutely no way of making those means yourself. This is especially true if, like the Bennett girls, you were going to be essentially homeless upon the death of your father, having absolutely no property and very little money of your own. This is also what happened to the Dashwood women in Sense and Sensibility. This is probably what happened to countless women at the time; if they were not fortunate enough to marry well – or even semi-well – they would be sentenced to a life of poverty and dependency on the goodwill of their friends and family.

The author of the article disparages the elder Bennett girls for being too accepting of their fate, but in all honesty, what else could they do? They could rail about it as much as poor maligned Mrs. Bennett, but nothing would change – in fact, if they did rail about it, their chances of making a decent match would probably be obliterated. To be honest, both Mrs. and Mr. Bennett are ridiculous, in my opinion, as they spent money like it was going out of style, never saving a whit, because they figured that they would have a male heir. Talk about rolling the dice and making it rain, elder Bennetts.

So as I was driving back and forth to karate camp, I was thinking about this and wondering – as one does – what I would do in such an era. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest with yourself, like when you spend your life thinking you’re Jo March and really realizing that you are Amy.

But as I thought about myself in terms of Pride and Prejudice, I came to a disturbing realization; I am not a feisty, witty, Elizabeth Bennett. I am not sweet, beautiful Jane, either. No, the character that I am most like is Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte Lucas, the cringe-worthy lady who takes Elizabeth’s leavings and snaps up the pathetic, boring, lame Mr. Collins. Charlotte was in her late twenties – way past her prime at the time, and probably had at that time given up all hope that she would ever have a home of her own, instead living in her parents’ house until she would ultimately be dependent on the kindness and duty of others until the sweet release of death.

I am an extremely practical person. I do not make emotional decisions, I plan carefully and think things through to the logical end. I am in no way a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl, I am a planner and a rational decision-maker. Maybe it’s the economist in me; rational behaviour is a common term in economics and it describes my life decisions. And so, I startled myself by realizing that if I was given the choice between semi-destitution and becoming Mrs. Collins, I would gear myself up for a lifetime of listening to those “little compliments ladies enjoy” and endless praise for “my benefactress, Lady Catherine.”

Introspection is a bitch, sometimes, isn’t it?

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