|Tom Hollander as Mr Collins (2005)|
Mr. Collins is a dreadful bore, with his long speeches and his constant apologizing. He’s a wretched dancer and a ghastly whist player. He is completely obsessed by his one true love – his relationship to Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I admit that I would not want to spend many evenings with him!
Still, there are qualities to admire in Mr. Collins, and I think they should be acknowledged.
First, he is a peace-maker. Obviously there was some quarrel going on between Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins’s father. We do not know the grounds for the quarrel, but it had gone on for years. Probably it was the fault of the senior Collins, as our Mr. Collins said he was always uneasy about it. At any rate, when his father dies, he takes the first step and writes a letter to Mr. Bennet.
Second, Mr. Collins does his best to make amends. He resolves to marry one of his cousins, thereby making sure that they will be cared for when their father dies. Now, he was certainly influenced by the fact that he had been told to marry by Lady Catherine, and the Bennets had a family of five daughters who had reason to welcome him. Even though he points out that there are many eligible young ladies in his neighborhood, we later learn that most of his neighborhood live rather high, so his cousins may have been the most eligible set of ladies available to him. He promises to Elizabeth that he would never reproach her for her lack of funds (which is more than Darcy does in his first proposal). Even though his affection for Elizabeth may be imaginary, his proposal is generous and honorable.
|Keira Knightley and Tom Hollander (Pride and Prejudice, 2005)|
Third, he demonstrates affection for family. Perhaps because his father was his closest relative and is now dead, he is eager to have cousins. In Pride & Prejudice we never become aware that he has any other relatives besides the Bennets (or perhaps none who will tolerate him) and his in-laws the Lucases. Once he decides to marry Charlotte (and she accepts him) he not only declares himself the happiest of men and always refers to her as “my dear Charlotte.” Even though Elizabeth has refused his offer of marriage, he is still an attentive host to her when she comes to Hunsford to visit.
He is proactive. Not only does he mend the breach with Mr. Bennet, he keeps up an active correspondence with that cousin. He makes an offer of marriage, and when that does not work, goes off and makes another. He does not give up.
He tries things. Mr. Collins is ready to try anything, even when he is not good at it (dancing and whist). He is not reserved like Mr. Darcy.
|David Bamber as Mr Collins, 1995|
It is true that Mr. Collins sometimes judges harshly. The most notable case is in chapter 57 when he reacts to Lydia and her situation with Wickham: “I am truly rejoiced that my cousin Lydia’s sad business has been so well hushed up, and am only concerned that their living together before the marriage took place should be so generally known. I must not, however, neglect the duties of my station, or refrain from declaring my amazement, at hearing that you received the young couple into your house as soon as they were married. It was an encouragement of vice; and had I been the rector of Longbourn, I should very strenuously have opposed it. You ought certainly to forgive them, as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.”
|Matt Smith as Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies|
As Mr. Bennet exclaims, that is his notion of Christian forgiveness, which does not seem to be forgiving at all. But we should remember that only a few chapters earlier, Mr. Bennet himself was planning never to admit Lydia to his sight. In chapter 50, Mr. Bennet declares: “Mrs. Bennet, before you take any or all of these houses for your son and daughter, let us come to a right understanding. Into one house in this neighborhood they shall never have admittance. I will not encourage the imprudence of either, by receiving them at Longbourn.”
So Mr. Collins’s harsh attitude, in keeping with his time, is not so surprising. Mr. Collins is not Lydia’s father, so he does not have the love a father has for a daughter; nor is he softened by actually seeing Lydia. We all know that it is much easier to express harsh opinions at a distance than it is to do so in person – consider the unpleasantness to be found in many online comments – and his sentiments are expressed by letter.
I concede that Mr. Collins has more than his share of irritating qualities. He is pompous. He is certain that he is always correct. He stands in the middle of the room and makes speeches (his soliloquy on music and singing at the Netherfield is infamous). He may not be especially bright, but how is someone who is not quick-witted supposed to become quick-witted? He does the best with what he can.
So, although I would not want to be married to Mr. Collins, I love reading about him.
Victoria's new Austen - inspired novel, The Meryton Murders: A Mystery Set in the Town of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, has just been releases!
Elizabeth Darcy receives a letter from her father informing her that her sister needs her. So Elizabeth travels from Pemberley to her old neighborhood to do what she can to support her sister in her time of distress. After her arrival, an acquaintance apparently kills herself, a cousin is found dead, and tempers everywhere are frayed. Soon Elizabeth learns first-hand what is menacing Meryton, and her fortune, her marriage, and even her life are at risk.
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