Monday, 8 February 2016
Jane Austen's Mr. Collins : Some Thoughts
The scenes with Mr. Collins are some of the funniest in Jane's novels. It is tiresome for Lizzy to discover that he intends to propose but she can laugh at 'being selected... as worthy of... assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors'. Even while enduring his proposal of marriage, she is so near laughing at the thought of him 'with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings' that she is unable to interrupt. The firmness and clarity with which she rejects his proposal wins our admiration: 'I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could make you so.’
Let us suppose Mr. Collins had decided to visit the Bennets a few weeks earlier - just before Bingley appeared on the scene. He would then have proposed to Jane, who would have been urged by her mother to accept him. Jane might well have become Mrs. Collins.
Why would she have accepted? Because she is more docile than Elizabeth, because she would see it as a prudent marriage, securing Longbourn for the family.
There is in fact something to be said for Mr. Collins. After all, he is seeking to play fair by his cousins, whose home he is due to inherit. He is the sort of man who will never get drunk and beat his wife. He will never be unfaithful to her. He can provide comfortably for a family. He does some useful work. He does not set out to marry for money.