Charlotte and Elizabeth: Multiple Modernities in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay argues that in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet exemplify competing claims about the development of personhood through conjugal intimacy. Charlotte and Elizabeth’s contrasting views are often translated by critics into a narrative of cultural modernization that foregrounds the development of Elizabeth Bennet as an exemplary modern subject. I read the disagreement between the two friends as a highly conflicted moral drama about the relationship between marriage and individual fulfillment. This essay contends that Charlotte’s stance is important to consider two hundred years later as a reminder of the multiplicity of attitudes toward intimacy, conjugality, and self-fulfillment in Austen’s fiction. This multiplicity remains overlooked by a tradition of Austen criticism that is often bound, even in contemporary feminist forms, to the analytic and prescriptive parameters of liberal personhood as those are understood to have emerged at the end of the eighteenth century.