*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
Sometimes, life deals us a hand of cards that we would not choose for ourselves, if we had that choice. In cases like this, we have two choices, play the hand we are dealt or fight it bitterly and be miserable.
In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet’s best friend is Charlotte Lucas. While Charlotte’s family is rising in status, she does not have the luck of her family. She has neither beauty, a witty personality or a large fortune to use as bait for potential husbands. She is also unmarried at the age of 27, which means according to the era she lived in, she was set for life to be the maiden aunt who took care of everyone else because she had neither a husband or a child of her own to care for.
After Elizabeth turns down Mr. Collins’s proposal, he goes straight to Charlotte, who accepts him. Elizabeth is horrified, but Charlotte knows that Mr. Collins is the best man she could get as a husband.
Through a modern lens Charlotte’s choice seems hasty and foolish. But we cannot look at her choices through 2017 lens, we must look at her choices through the lens of the Georgian era.
In Emma, Austen makes light of the hardship that single women endure.
It is poverty only which makes celibacy contemptible to a generous public! A single woman with a very narrow income must be a ridiculous, disagreeable, old maid! the proper sport of boys and girls; but a single woman of good fortune is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as anybody else. (p. 93)
Unlike Emma Woodhouse, Charlotte’s options are far more limited. She can either marry Mr. Collins for income and a comfortable home or forever be the old maid in her family. Given the options that are before her, marrying Mr. Collins, as ridiculous as he seems, makes a lot of sense. Charlotte plays the hand that life has dealt her. Prince Charming, Mr. Collins is not (and certainly never will be). But he is a respectable man with a solid income and home to offer Charlotte, which is certainly better than living with her parents for the rest of her days.
To sum it up: Sometimes in life, and on the page, we are dealt a certain hand of cards. How we deal with that hand defines us. In creating the character of Charlotte Lucas, Austen not only makes the most obvious feminist statement, but she also comments on the choices we make based upon our circumstances and why we make those choices. As writers, we have to explain to the audience why our characters are making the choices they are making. If the character’s motives are fuzzy to the writer, they will also be fuzzy to the reader. Charlotte’s motives for her choices are clear and by making that clear, that is the only way to hook the reader so they will come back for more.