Haley revisits the issue of settling in her thoughtful post titled Charlotte Lucas did right. She walks us through the plot of Pride and Prejudice to describe how a pragmatic woman might want to view her marriage options:
When Elizabeth vehemently rejects a proposal from her cousin Mr. Collins, a clueless, pompous clergyman, Charlotte swoops in and snags him. Elizabeth is shocked upon finding out and can’t believe Charlotte would give the doofus the time of day, but Charlotte calmly reminds Elizabeth that she is not a romantic and that given Mr. Collins’s material assets and social standing, she figures her chance at happiness is as good as anyone else’s who marries for love.
Shortly after Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins, Elizabeth visits her friend for a few weeks, and through her eyes Austen reveals that Charlotte deals with her marriage by intrepidly avoiding her obnoxious husband whenever possible and politely not seeing his faults otherwise. She is depicted as a tolerant and intelligent wife, if one who openly settled for a man she didn’t love.
I have already shared my view that women shouldn’t settle, and should only marry if she and the man are head over heels in love. While I agree with Haley that falling out of love isn’t justifiable reason for divorce, I wouldn’t advise a man or a woman to enter into marriage where love and chemistry wasn’t at least present in the beginning. Haley has a different take on this, and explains how she thinks a woman might reasonably chart a different path:
Charlotte, old by the standard of the time and not pretty, had two options: either remain a spinster and continue to live at home with virtually zero hope of ever marrying, or marry an obnoxious lunk and get to be mistress of her own house. I think she made the right choice. Collins is not depicted as type who would notice that his wife had very little affection for him; in fact, he comes off as kind of asexual. The world is not everyone’s oyster, and given the circumstances, I think both characters made out about as best they could. It would have been very difficult for Mr. Collins to find a wife who would have fallen in love with him, and nobody was beating a path to Charlotte’s door otherwise.
Haley acknowledges the moral ramifications of a woman marrying a man she doesn’t love; in her zeal to avoid having no choice at all, she is potentially doing him great harm by depriving him of the option of marrying a woman who does in fact love him:
Would I encourage a modern-day Charlotte Lucas to make the same choice? Maybe. If marriage is what she really wants and she understands its obligations and is prepared to fulfill them, then I don’t see the harm in accepting the non-ideal but only offer on the table. The success of a marriage is due largely to the actions of both parties after the vows. If the actions are good, I think both people will be better off than if they had remained single.
This is a complex issue, and I think Haley has navigated it with skill. However, as I mentioned earlier I disagree with her final assessment. While in theory it might be possible for a woman to avoid harming a man she (selfishly) chose to marry by acting the part of a loving wife, in practice the likelihood of her being able to follow through with this intent strikes me as unacceptably small.
As we discussed this in the comments section Haley made the following point:
I don’t want to speculate on Mr. Collins’s sex drive (EWW), but I’m sure Charlotte was mentally prepared to grin and bear it for the 15 total minutes per week she had to.
The novel also doesn’t seem to indicate that Mr. Collins doesn’t like Charlotte. He is depicted as a “love the one you’re with” type.
This is the very heart of the issue. Neither one was the cream of the crop, but both still have the right to at least have a chance at being loved. Mr. Collins doesn’t play a script in his mind saying I was forced to settle. He loves her as a husband is commanded to love his wife. Charlotte on the other hand does not appear to do this. She tolerates the man she married, acting as if she did him some profound favor by pretending she loved him. When I pointed out that She wasn’t settling. She was marrying an equal, Haley replied:
Please tell me you haven’t read the book. Mr. Collins would be a punishment to any woman above a 1.
Haley is right that I haven’t read the book. No man worth his mancard would read such a thing without the greatest of coercion, which I thankfully have escaped. I have no choice but to take Haley’s learned word here. Clearly the marriage deck is stacked against women. This would explain why we so often hear about women being forced to settle, but rarely if ever hear this about men. For some reason men are always able to marry someone they actually love, but women don’t have this option. I’m generally a skeptic of feminist theory, but this is obviously a case where the patriarchy has stacked the deck against women. This also might explain why women are far more likely to be the ones to initiate divorce. These poor women are forced to marry men who are beneath them. While I have to give the patriarchal conspirators their due for this diabolical plan, I think it is time we called them on it. This injustice must not stand.