Jane Austen includes three Charlottes among her works, Miss Lucas, Mrs. Palmer and Miss Heywood. for the first two, one would think that she did not like the name very much, though there are articles that suggest that she was very familiar with the novels of Charlotte Smith.
Charlotte Palmer of Sense and Sensibility, of which she has neither.
The daughter of Mrs. Jennings and the younger sister of Lady Middleton, Mrs Palmer is jolly but empty-headed and laughs at inappropriate things, such as her husband’s continual rudeness to her and to others. His attitude is somewhat understandable, as anyone would be constantly irritated by such a silly wife. She is only concerned about going to balls and being seen, like an unmarried girl, at least until Marianne comes down with a fever, which may pose a threat to her child. Since she is not raising the child herself, but leaving it in the care of a nurse, her frantic withdrawal is overly dramatic, much like Marianne’s obsession with Willoughby.
Charlotte Lucas is Elizabeth’s friend who, at 27 years old, fears becoming a burden to her family and therefore agrees to marry Mr. Collins, whom she does not love, to gain financial security. She represents the old-school of marriage of convenience, making the best of a situation and not expecting much of marriage except respectability and security. A woman might be considered an old maid at 25 when people often died at 40.
Though the novel stresses the importance of love and understanding in marriage (as seen in the anticipated success of Elizabeth-Darcy relationship and failure of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet relationship), Austen never seems to condemn the decision of Charlotte to marry for money. In fact, Charlotte says, “I never was romantic. Don’t you dare judge me”
As a wife, she has a place in society and useful work to do, managing her own home. As a spinster, she has no prospects, no respectable work to do, other than nursing her parents as they age. She expects to work around her husband’s silliness, much as her mother has worked around her father’s silliness, and make herself happy. She can also look forward to taking over Elizabeth’s home when Mr. Bennet dies, and she is fully capable of making it a paying proposition. One does wonder how that will affect the relationship between Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Collins.
When she died in 1817, Austen left behind 11 chapters of a novel chronicling the growth and demise of Sanditon, a town on the southern coast of Sussex. Thomas Parker and his wife have partnered with Sanditon’s grande dame, Lady Denham, in an effort to establish the town as a center of tourism competitive with Brighton. A guest of the Parkers, fresh, sharp and level-headed 22-year-old Charlotte Heywood, is the novel’s heroine. Charlotte’s impressions of the people who populate Sanditon–haughty Lady Denham; her supercilious nephew, Sir Edward; her kind-hearted companion, Clara Brereton; and Thomas Parker’s dashing younger brother, Sidney–set the scene. In brilliant Austen style, the first chapters prepare the reader for Edward’s unrequited love for Clara, the possibility of a match between Charlotte and Sidney and grand social commentary.
Thank you to Jane Austen and her trio of Charlottes. More fictional Charlottes this week, including everyone’s favorite spider and web designer.