Having no feelings of diffidence to make it distressing to himself

One of my favorite Jane Austen characters is Mr Collins.

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, let’s have chapter 19:

The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn. Mr. Collins made his declaration in form. Having resolved to do it without loss of time, as his leave of absence extended only to the following Saturday, and having no feelings of diffidence to make it distressing to himself even at the moment, he set about it in a very orderly manner, with all the observances, which he supposed a regular part of the business. On finding Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth, and one of the younger girls together, soon after breakfast, he addressed the mother in these words:

“May I hope, madam, for your interest with your fair daughter Elizabeth, when I solicit for the honour of a private audience with her in the course of this morning?”

Before Elizabeth had time for anything but a blush of surprise, Mrs. Bennet answered instantly, “Oh dear!—yes—certainly. I am sure Lizzy will be very happy—I am sure she can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you up stairs.” And, gathering her work together, she was hastening away, when Elizabeth called out:

“Dear madam, do not go. I beg you will not go. Mr. Collins must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear. I am going away myself.”

“No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you to stay where you are.” And upon Elizabeth’s seeming really, with vexed and embarrassed looks, about to escape, she added: “Lizzy, I insist upon your staying and hearing Mr. Collins.”

Elizabeth would not oppose such an injunction—and a moment’s consideration making her also sensible that it would be wisest to get it over as soon and as quietly as possible, she sat down again and tried to conceal, by incessant employment the feelings which were divided between distress and diversion. Mrs. Bennet and Kitty walked off, and as soon as they were gone, Mr. Collins began.

“Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, that your modesty, so far from doing you any disservice, rather adds to your other perfections. You would have been less amiable in my eyes had there not been this little unwillingness; but allow me to assure you, that I have your respected mother’s permission for this address. You can hardly doubt the purport of my discourse, however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble; my attentions have been too marked to be mistaken. 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 would 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.”

The idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing, that she could not use the short pause he allowed in any attempt to stop him further, and he continued:

“My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish; secondly, that I am convinced that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly—which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness. Twice has she condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!) on this subject; and it was but the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford—between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh’s footstool, that she said, ‘Mr. Collins, you must marry. A clergyman like you must marry. Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman for my sake; and for your own, let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.’ Allow me, by the way, to observe, my fair cousin, that I do not reckon the notice and kindness of Lady Catherine de Bourgh as among the least of the advantages in my power to offer. You will find her manners beyond anything I can describe; and your wit and vivacity, I think, must be acceptable to her, especially when tempered with the silence and respect which her rank will inevitably excite. Thus much for my general intention in favour of matrimony; it remains to be told why my views were directed towards Longbourn instead of my own neighbourhood, where I can assure you there are many amiable young women. But the fact is, that being, as I am, to inherit this estate after the death of your honoured father (who, however, may live many years longer), I could not satisfy myself without resolving to choose a wife from among his daughters, that the loss to them might be as little as possible, when the melancholy event takes place—which, however, as I have already said, may not be for several years. This has been my motive, my fair cousin, and I flatter myself it will not sink me in your esteem. And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection. To fortune I am perfectly indifferent, and shall make no demand of that nature on your father, since I am well aware that it could not be complied with; and that one thousand pounds in the four per cents, which will not be yours till after your mother’s decease, is all that you may ever be entitled to. On that head, therefore, I shall be uniformly silent; and you may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married.”

It was absolutely necessary to interrupt him now.

“You are too hasty, sir,” she cried. “You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without further loss of time. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to decline them.”

“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second, or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”

“Upon my word, sir,” cried Elizabeth, “your hope is a rather extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make mehappy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who could 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.”

“Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so,” said Mr. Collins very gravely—”but I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the very highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualification.”

“Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary. 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. In making me the offer, you must have satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to my family, and may take possession of Longbourn estate whenever it falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may be considered, therefore, as finally settled.” And rising as she thus spoke, she would have quitted the room, had Mr. Collins not thus addressed her:

“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on the subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because 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.”

“Really, Mr. Collins,” cried Elizabeth with some warmth, “you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as to convince you of its being one.”

“You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these: It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy of your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of de Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into further consideration, that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall choose to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

“I do assure you, sir, that I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man. I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere. I thank you again and again for the honour you have done me in your proposals, but to accept them is absolutely impossible. My feelings in every respect forbid it. Can I speak plainer? Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart.”

“You are uniformly charming!” cried he, with an air of awkward gallantry; “and I am persuaded that when sanctioned by the express authority of both your excellent parents, my proposals will not fail of being acceptable.”

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; determined, 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 to be decisive, and whose behaviour at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.


  1. Hoosier X says

    One of the best scenes in the book.

    And I love how differently it plays in the movies depending on tone!

    In the 1940 version, it’s rather comic, almost Dickensian because of actor Melville Cooper.

    And in the 2005 version (with Kiera Knightley), it is an extremely uncomfortable scene! Just embarrassing and horrifying to everyone involved. I’ve seen that version several times and, cringing, I always think about fast-forwarding through that scene because it’s almost too good.

  2. sawells says

    The BBC multi-episode adaptation from 1995 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_and_Prejudice_%281995_TV_series%29) is amazing – largely because they let Jane Austen write the dialogue – and it has Timothy Spall as Mr. Collins, he is perfect – comically un-self-aware, shimmering in grease, excruciating and funny at the same time.

    The last time we re-read P&P, it really struck me how the book passes between the three proposals to Elizabeth – Collins (horribly wrong in every way), Darcy’s first attempt (disastrously inept and mistimed), and finally Darcy’s second attempt (brief, understated, and barely needed because it is finally right).

  3. Claire Simpson says

    @sawells It was the David Bamber in the 1995 BBC production, not Timothy Spall.

    The different interpretations of the character always fascinate me. In the earlier BBC production from the 1980’s, he’s played very much as a buffoon but not really harmful. Bamber’s Collins is more unpleasant, and vicious in his character and his greasy obsequiousness turns the stomach. When I heard Tom Hollander had been cast in the 2005 film with Kiera Knightley, I had thought it a miscasting, but I was wrong. His Mr Collins is a masterpiece, both disturbing and menacing in a way that David Bamber’s was not. Bamber’s Collins repelled me, Hollander’s Collins frightened me.

  4. sawells says

    @3 – good lord, you’re right. I was so sure it was Spall I’d never checked the cast list!

    I’ve never really warmed to the Kiera Knightley version – I felt they’d given up too much of the original dialogue.

  5. says

    He has to be very self-important, and very dim, and very obsequious in one direction and pompous in the other. He also has to talk way too much, and listen very little.

  6. Lady Mondegreen says

    He has to be very self-important, and very dim, and very obsequious in one direction and pompous in the other. He also has to talk way too much, and listen very little.

    Gee, who does that remind me of?

    *hums Molly Malone*

  7. Erp says

    And imagine how he acts towards his inferiors? We only see him towards his social equals and superiors yet by being in charge of a parish he has at that time a great deal of power over the working class people of the parish whether or not they were Church of England (legal marriages unless both parties were either Quakers or Jews could only take place in a CoE church, disbursement of charity, etc.). What would he do to an unmarried pregnant servant or farmer’s daughter?

  8. sawells says

    There’s a finely drawn moment where it emerges that his wife has her favourite room on one side of the house… and she encourages him to spend as much time as possible in the garden on the _other_ side of the house…

  9. Konradius says

    > He has to be very self-important, and very dim, and very obsequious in one direction and pompous in the other. He also has to talk way too much, and listen very little.

    Ouch that burns. When I started reading I thought it might be a reference to a certain acquaintance of ours, but I thought the better of it. Not everything needs to be connected to the topic in the headlines.

    But that comment makes it very clear. The problem of course with the sympathetic embarrassment I feel is that the actual target of the comment seems blissfully unaware and completely oblivious to embarrassment…

  10. says

    His fatuousness is fearsome. So though his proposal to Elizabeth is comic, his marriage to the intelligent Charlotte Lucas is tragic.

  11. says

    Erp @ 7 – Austen provides a nice illustration of what that would be like in Mansfield Park, a brief but hideous little vignette in which the child of one of the estate’s employees arrives on an errand at the servants’ mealtime, obviously in hope of a bit of food – and Mrs Norris intervenes and sends him away hungry.

    Mrs Norris is perhaps Austen’s worst character – not funny, and utterly horrible. Her chief occupation is making sure Fanny realizes she’s inferior to her rich cousins.

  12. says

    Mrs Norris is one of the most believable villains in fiction, with her self-righteous bullying her inferiors and arse-licking her superiors.

  13. Erp says

    Charlotte felt she had to make the most of a bad situation.
    I get the feeling that though the Lucas father’s estate is probably not entailed, it is not large. The daughters would not be getting a large dowry or inheritance (certainly not enough to live on as single independent women) and the younger sons would be expected to find a career (and possibly even the oldest son). Charlotte was several years older than Elizabeth and her choices were remain unmarried and dependent on her parents and then her siblings (possibly as an unpaid companion, nurse, or child carer) or to marry (or forfeit her social class and work for money). Her husband is bad but (a) she can influence him easily and (b) their life’s trajectory barring his death and no sons will have them move back to the same village as her parents (or her eldest brother if her parents are dead by then).

    It could be worst, one of my many times great aunts who lived in that time and place (well to be exact her father was Welsh not English gentry) married to get out of her father’s household. She chose a clergyman to marry and he is described by others in family documents as “jealous, ill-tempered and narrow” and that he “treated her like a slave”. Her sisters who also married (four of them) were on the whole luckier (one other sister died in early adulthood and another couple never married). The clergyman’s own sister, like Lydia, did elope (midnight via a ladder) though, unlike Lydia, the couple went to Scotland and married and were happy (save for the early death of almost all their children) and the husband became quite successful (after a career change from church to law).

  14. says

    In terms of the odious Mr Collins, don’t forget the chapter where he informs Mr Bennet of his view of receiving the married Mr and Mrs Wickham to Longbourn. It’s in chapter 57, where Mr Bennet reads a letter from him to Elizabeth:

    Elizabeth tried to join in her father’s pleasantry, but could only force one most reluctant smile. Never had his wit been directed in a manner so little agreeable to her.
    “Are you not diverted?”
    “Oh! yes. Pray read on.”
    “‘After mentioning the likelihood of this marriage to her ladyship last night, she immediately, with her usual condescension, expressed what she felt on the occasion; when it became apparent, that on the score of some family objections on the part of my cousin, she would never give her consent to what she termed so disgraceful a match. I thought it my duty to give the speediest intelligence of this to my cousin, that she and her noble admirer may be aware of what they are about, and not run hastily into a marriage which has not been properly sanctioned.’ Mr. Collins moreover adds, ‘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.’ That is his notion of Christian forgiveness! The rest of his letter is only about his dear Charlotte’s situation, and his expectation of a young olive-branch. But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it. You are not going to be missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report. For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

    I suspect that Mr Collins’ Christian forgiveness and charity is highly dependent upon whom is deemed worthy.

  15. says

    When Fanny returns to Portsmouth to stay with her family:-

    “Of her two sisters, Mrs. Price very much more resembled Lady Bertram than Mrs. Norris. She was a manager by necessity, without any of Mrs. Norris’s inclination for it, or any of her activity. Her disposition was naturally easy and indolent, like Lady Bertram’s; and a situation of similar affluence and do-nothingness would have been much more suited to her capacity than the exertions and self-denials of the one which her imprudent marriage had placed her in. She might have made just as good a woman of consequence as Lady Bertram, but Mrs. Norris would have been a more respectable mother of nine children on a small income.

    Much of all this Fanny could not but be sensible of. She might scruple to make use of the words, but she must and did feel that her mother was a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement and discomfort from beginning to end”

    Mrs Norris had a lot of energy so would have made sure the house was clean, meals were provided & the children’s clothes mended.


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