Mr. Right vs. Mr. Good Enough?

I am not romantic you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am as convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair, as most people can boast on entering the marriage state. –Charlotte Lucas to Elizabeth Bennet, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

In the March 2008 issue of the Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb makes an argument for settling that reminded me strongly of Charlotte Lucas’s speech explaining her acceptance of the boorish Mr. Collins’s proposal of marriage. Gottlieb, who decided to become a mother even though she’d not found “Mr. Right,” wonders if settling earlier for “Mr. Good Enough” would have made for a happier and easier life.

It’s a fair question, and clearly one that’s been around some time. It made me wonder what advice Jane Austen might have given. The recent PBS Masterpiece showing of Miss Austen Regrets had a few conjectures. Austen commented to her niece that “The only way to get a man like Mr. Darcy is to make him up!” Later, a reader comments to Austen that Elizabeth Bennett only realized she was in love with Darcy after she saw what a big house he had. Austen herself never married, and Miss Austen Regrets raises the question of whether she later wished she had settled. While we can’t know, it’s interesting to wonder, especially since Austen’s ideal of marital bliss as portrayed in her novels was (nearly?) always a combination of financial security and romantic love.

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