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Charlotte smiled from across the room at the man’s obvious devotion to her friend. Such attachment was very charming, undoubtedly, and when it came to an end, as it was most certain to do, they would have abundant good fortune to keep the inevitable aggravations with each other to a minimum.There have been many fine novels written about Charlotte Lucas, and it was a bit of a struggle to come up with a new way to redeem Elizabeth's pragmatic friend. My Charlotte, having already been saved from a fate as Mrs. Collins in First Impressions: A Tale f Less Pride & Prejudice, journeys to Pemberley for the first time to attend the Darcys' wedding. I can't help but love this exchange upon her arrival:
“It almost is enough to make one wish to be an old maid. As I dwindle into perpetual maidenhood, Eliza, be sure to remind me of what a great blessing it is not to be married to Mr. Wickham.”
“Oh, let us not rely on him alone. The man is not worthy such undo consideration. Think on my new brother, Mr. Collins, should you ever need a reminder of Artemis’ blessings.”
“But how shall I fare when all the gentlemen before me are not Mr. Wickhams or Collinses, but Mr. Darcys and Bingleys? If your fiancé weren’t so impressive, my lot might be made easier.”
Charlotte arrives in Derbyshire determined to find a suitable husband, and it is her refusal to allow romance to cloud that pursuit that gets her into trouble. Here is a glimpse into her thoughts:
That impressive spectacle – the confirmation of all she had heard of Mr. Darcy’s wealth and more – brought forward lingering doubts she had fought against ever since the inevitability of Elizabeth’s fate became clear. Charlotte, ever practical, was quick to celebrate the match. Being well acquainted with her friend’s opinions on marriage without attachment, she rejoiced to see Elizabeth find someone who not only suited her ideals, but who also had the means to marry for affection. She was honored when Elizabeth chose to include her in this most important of life’s great rituals, and would happily have born Mrs. Bennet’s exclusive company for four days more, had the distance required it, in order to stand with her closest friend as she took her vows. Nevertheless, Charlotte could quietly acknowledge that her joy was not unalloyed. There were nagging sensations tempering her delight. She would miss Elizabeth’s presence in the neighborhood, certainly, but though the vacuous void left in Charlotte’s life, as she trod ever further down that seemingly inevitable path towards spinsterhood, was sure to be rather horrendous, this was not what most bothered her. Missing a friend was a torment, but the feelings thus invoked where at least honorable.
Charlotte was bothered by other emotions, of a nature to cause her shame. The vista as she gazed down upon Pemberley’s grandeur that day had forced the most pressing of these to the forefront of her consciousness.
From the first, Charlotte struggled with an irrepressible desire to find something in Mr. Darcy that she could despise, his perfections being far too much for a lady like herself to bear. Too long had she schooled herself against unreasonable expectations, debating with Elizabeth the wisdom of seeking affection in marriage at all, and to see such a fairytale unfold before her very eyes undermined some of her most cherished beliefs. Were Mr. Darcy ill-looking, bad tempered, or overly proud, Charlotte could be more equanimous, but to be confronted by a real-life Prince Charming was intolerable. Such beings did not exist, or at least not for a lady of little fortune, average face, and on the wrong side of five and twenty. Something, anything, must be discovered wanting in Mr. Darcy.
The task was not an easy one, but slowly her doubts began to center upon the disparity between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s circumstances. Their very different backgrounds would certainly compound the inevitable challenges of such a marriage. Why a seemingly sensible man would connect himself without more advantage she could not fully comprehend, nor could she understand the good fortune that led his relations to bless the engagement, for they could not be blinded by Elizabeth’s ready wit and pretty countenance to the absurdities of the connection. Charlotte found such blatant disregard for his own interest suspect, a conclusion that set her mind at ease without any great diminution to her friend’s triumph. A little stupidity in a husband was not such a bad thing, after all. It might even be considered an asset. Yet to see his capability on such obvious display everywhere one looked at Pemberley, where everything stood proof of Mr. Darcy’s excellent stewardship! Charlotte was left to contend with the possibility that dreams really do come true, at least for others.
No knight in shinning armor could be expected to lose his caliber over Miss Lucas, but she was not yet completely hopeless of finding someone acceptable. If she might yet attract a husband both respectable and of adequate fortune, she would then think herself nearly as lucky as Elizabeth. As the alternative was playing attendant aunt at Lucas Lodge all her days, Charlotte knew she was willing to endure a great deal for the independence gained through such a marriage. She wondered she could be so discriminating on Elizabeth’s behalf, finding even so excellent a man as Mr. Darcy to come up short, while confronting her own dismal prospects with relative calm. Looking at her circumstances objectively, Charlotte knew she had no better hope of meeting a potential husband in her near future than on this trip to Pemberley. Though Lady Lucas never discussed it with her daughter, the variety of new gowns she had made up for the trip implicitly revealed that she too perceived the invitation to Pemberley as a vital opportunity. Charlotte was determined to do everything in her power not to let it go to waste.
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