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Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 19

Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth

I seriously considered reproducing the entire chapter within this post, because it is 100% solid comedic gold. Instead, I will sum up, and link you to the appropriate page at Mollands.net where you can (and, I hope, will) read Mr Collins's proposal in full.

The Setting

It is Wednesday, the day after the Netherfield ball. Knowing that he's got to get home by Saturday, Mr Collins decides to make his move. He corners finds Elizabeth when she is alone with her mother and Kitty after breakfast.

The Wind-Up

Mr Collins: May I, in the most pompous way possible, seek a private audience with Miss Elizabeth?

Mrs Bennet: Of course you may! Kitty and I were just . . . off! To do . . . anything!

Elizabeth: Mom! There's no need for privacy - I'm sure that Mr Collins can't have anything to say that cannot be said in front of the family. Come to think of it, I'm going to get up and go elsewhere myself.

Mrs Bennet: Sit and stay. That's an order.

Elizabeth: [Loud eyeroll.]

The Pitch

Mr Collins: Your desire not to be alone with me adds to your many perfections. Obviously, you know why we're here. "Almost as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying -- and moreover for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did."

Elizabeth: [Is torn between two options: crazed laughter or *headdesk* - opts for stifled laughter, giving herself a had pinch to make sure she does not actually burst out laughing in his face.]

Mr Collins: I have several reasons for marrying. I feel a list coming on:

1. I'm a clergyman, and clergymen should set a good example by marrying.
2. I am convinced it will add to my happiness. (I do not, actually, care if it adds to yours.)
3. Now that I think of it, this should be first. But Lady Catherine told me I should get married.

Those are the reasons for why I'm getting married. And now, why I decided to come to Longbourne to find a wife:

1. I am going to inherit Longbourne
2. I figured if I had to get married anyway, why not do you all a kindness and make sure your entire family still has a place to live once your father died, since otherwise you will all be out in the street?

Elizabeth: O_o

Mr Collins: "And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection." P.S. - I hear your dowry isn't all that large, so I will belabor that issue and its full extent or lack thereof now, but I promise that once we're married I won't say another word about it. Probably. Maybe.

Elizabeth: Whoa - talk about putting the cart before the horse. You forget I haven't answered you. So let me just say NO. Thanks, but no thanks.

Mr Collins: [waves her off] Piffle. I know how you young ladies are. You say no when you mean yes.

Elizabeth: NO MEANS NO! " 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 would make you so, -- Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation."

Kelly: Please take not of this wonderful bit of foreshadowing. Because Elizabeth will, of course, meet Lady Catherine.

Mr Collins: If it were certain that Lady Catherine wouldn't like you, I wouldn't have asked.

Elizabeth: "You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy and very rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power to prevent your being otherwise." When you inherit Longbourne, please take it knowing that you did your best to help my sisters and myself. And now, I'm out of here.

Mr Collins: Next time I talk to you about this, I hope to get a better answer. Your saying no doesn't bother me. "I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character."

Elizabeth: Dude, if you think I'm encouraging you, you are delusional.

Mr Collins: "You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course." I feel another list coming on:

1. I am not an unworthy marriage candidate.
2. My house at Hunsford is highly desireable.
3. My job is good, my connections are good.
4. This would help your family.
5. There's no guarantee anyone else will ever want to marry you. After all, you're not that well-off.

"As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females."

Elizabeth: O_o I would never be so "elegant" as to torment a respectable man such as yourself. NO MEANS NO! Thanks, but there's no way in hell I will ever marry you. "My feelings in every respect forbid it" (a phrase which here means something like "I find you totally skeevy and nonsensical"). Do not think of me as some elegant female trying to flirt with you, but as a rational being for whom NO MEANS NO!

Mr Collins: Why, you are just so charming! I'm sure that once your parents have knocked sense into you, you'll say yes!

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception, Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; determined, that if he persisted in considering her repeated refusals as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father, whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as must be decisive, and whose behaviour at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.

Mr Collins has struck out

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( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 19th, 2011 10:14 pm (UTC)
Mr. Collins makes me laugh every time he's on page, but this is possibly my favorite scene of his. (No, wait, that would be later when Elizabeth meets Lady Catherine...) His delusion that he is a suitable match for Elizabeth is complete. And while his refusal to take her seriously is beyond obnoxious, he is so utterly ridiculous at the same time I can't help but laugh at Elizabeth's predicament.
Jan. 19th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)
Love that icon!

And Mr Collins is indeed one of the funniest characters Austen ever wrote. I love David Bamber in this scene, although Tom Hollander also did a marvelous job.
Jan. 20th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
David Bamber did an amazing performance as Mr. Collins: just the right mix of creepy and unctuous. I haven't seen the newest P&P movie (with Keira Knightly). I've been putting it off for several reasons, the biggest one being the BBC version was so good everything else must by default be not as good. (Ah, logic!)

I stole the icon from Sarah Rees Brennan who wrote The Demon's Lexicon. One character, Mae (who shares Favorite Female Character title with Elizabeth Bennett), has a t-shirt with this on it. I keep trying to convince Sarah she should sell those t-shirts.
Jan. 20th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
I've seen T-shirts saying that online - trying to remember at what site.

The 2005 isn't as good as the 1995, but it has redeeming qualities - Matthew MacFadyen is quite good as Darcy - he does a somewhat more shy/brooding version than Firth's proud/haughty one, but it worked for me - also, his voice is to die for. And Tom Hollander is brilliant as Mr Collins. And Jane & Bingley are well-done (and well-matched) as well, as is Caroline (they dispense with the Hursts). In today's post, I put up a link to part of it on YouTube - it appears someone has uploaded the whole movie after all!
Jan. 21st, 2011 02:49 pm (UTC)
Off to search for t-shirt and movie -- thanks for letting me know!
Jan. 19th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
'And now nothing remains but for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection' *shudder*
I chuckled a lot both reading this chapter and this post, actually gufawing at number 3 on your first list : )
Jan. 19th, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC)
This chapter is complete and total win.
Jan. 19th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
"And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection."

That line always cracks me up. Poor Lizzy...but I'm laughing anyway, because Mr. Collins is just so absurd!

I've always been glad that I read Pride and Prejudice before I saw it as a movie or heard any spoilers. I loved not knowing how it was going to end up, and being afraid that Lizzy might have to marry Mr. Collins.
Jan. 19th, 2011 11:50 pm (UTC)
Bah! Remember being afraid. Proofreading is our friend!
Jan. 20th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
He's such a pompous jerk - and so so so so funny!
Jan. 20th, 2011 01:42 am (UTC)
I always regretted he didn't marry Mary, oops spoiler. ;)
Jan. 20th, 2011 03:22 am (UTC)
It's not that spoilery - after all, Elizabeth tells him to inherit with a clean conscience, so we can infer that he's not likely to shift his attention to a third Bennet sister.

In the weird 2003 Latter Day Saints version of P&P (which I watched on YouTube), Collins does indeed marry Mary. Eventually.
Jan. 20th, 2011 03:41 am (UTC)
In the weird 2003 Latter Day Saints version of P&P

The what huh? I must look into this.
Jan. 20th, 2011 04:02 am (UTC)
I lost about 2 hours of my life watching it. But the massive WTF?! moments were hilarious, and I kept emailing the person who sent me the link to it to update them on the f*ckwittery that I was seeing. (E.g., Kitty wears T-shirts with kittens on them. No lie.)
Jan. 20th, 2011 03:14 am (UTC)
The last line of the chapter is my favorite.
Jan. 20th, 2011 03:24 am (UTC)
Yeah - although how sad is it that Mr Collins needs to hear it from a man or he won't believe it? My feminist hackles are raised - as Austen intended them to be, really. She's making sport of Collins for having such an attitude, and we are all laughing along with her. Gotta love those protofeminist tendencies!
Jan. 20th, 2011 04:08 am (UTC)
Now I can't wait 'til we get to the discussion of... oh, OK, I won't get all spoilery, but the discussion of Mr. Collins' relationship with the woman he does eventually marry, and whether or not she could possibly be content with that life. I am constantly divided in my mind on that point, balancing between the woman's particular temperament, the advantages of being in charge of your own household, etc.... and the problem of inhabiting the same house as Mr. Collins, not to say the same bed.
Jan. 20th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
I believe that Charlotte is able to see sex with Collins as an opportunity cost - she's just that rational. And one of the time-honored manners of contraception in that time was separate bedrooms, so it's possible that she only sleeps with him occasionally, and not nightly. *shudders at the mere thought of it*

Edited at 2011-01-20 04:25 pm (UTC)
Jan. 20th, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, there is that blessing at least. And Charlotte's "strength of understanding" weighs heavily with me in believing she can find her own kind of contentment and even happiness, particularly if children arrive. I think she is strong-minded enough not to raise the children to demean their father, as Mr. Bennett encourages Lizzie to do with her mother. It's clear Charlotte is working to build herself as much of a separate world from Mr. Collins as she can, to preserve her own sanity. She has Longbourne to look forward to, which she should be intelligent enough to take as a blessing and cherish fond memories of time there with Lizzie. Following Lizzie's marriage, the idea should lose any sting of guilt it might have had. And she would be an immense blessing to the parish during their tenure there, and should find pleasure in being useful to the community.

And yet... given enough time, water wears away rock. Life expectancy was shorter then, but twenty, thirty years of Mr. Collins' prattle? Is anyone really that strong-minded? Is there any chance she might, by constant patience and womanly managing, curb his folly to any degree? Hard to believe of anyone who proves himself as dense as Mr. Collins does in this chapter, but is there hope?

Sorry. I have a bad habit of developing entire pre- and post-histories for my minor characters, which makes me wonder about other people's as well.
Jan. 20th, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about water & rock. I don't think Charlotte has an easy row to hoe there, but if memory serves, by the book's end, Mr Collins has settled down a bit - practical Charlotte has helped him to see the world as it is, not as his books of conduct tell him they are, and Charlotte certainly maintains her relationship with Elizabeth (and by extension, Darcy), so perhaps with more sensible people around him, he is also a bit worn down, and therefore less of a prat?

I have to say that I quite agree with you, though - Collins is hilarious on the page (or screen) in this bit of a novel, but actually imagining an entire life with him (or, for that matter, an entire night with him) is disturbing indeed.
Jan. 20th, 2011 11:38 pm (UTC)
I'll have to re-read the potentially-less-prat bits of Mr. Collins when we get there - I can't remember clearly. One definitely hopes that the example of a respectful yet infinitely more intelligent wife, and the wife's quite sensible friends, would help. Mr. Darcy is an advantage, since Mr. Collins' servility to the nobility automatically means he'll want to make a good impression. The challenge will be conveying to him what exactly will make a good impression!
Jan. 20th, 2011 05:15 pm (UTC)
"Dude, if you think I'm encouraging you, you are delusional." ~ Amen, Elizabeth.
Jan. 20th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
I know, right?
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 24th, 2011 02:50 am (UTC)
You are correct about the foreshadowing, and yet when she turns Darcy down in the first instance, it is not because she hopes he will ask again. She doesn't start to hope he will ask again until at least Pemberley, after all. So her actions are never taken with an expectation of being asked again, but she comes to wish for the second asking anyhow. It's such a nuanced turning of the screw, isn't it? Austen was brilliant. As if there were any doubt.

None of my good friends are "elegant females". I haven't the patience for them. Mr Collins's expectations of young ladies are based on his reading of conduct books, such as Fordyce's Sermons, although there were other such books out - including collections called Elegant Extracts, which were the sort of thing that Mary read. Just bits of this and that, pulled out of context, with the goal of "molding" young women of a certain type.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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