Few characters deserve to be hung by their toes like Mr. Wickham, and few characters make me want to gag like Mr. Collins. And that’s a good thing. More on that in a moment.
We’re talking Pride and Prejudice again today — this time it’s volume 1, chapters 13 – 23. If you haven’t read the first post on this classic novel, you should do that now.
And now, on with the show . . .
Note: This post may contain spoilers. If you don’t want to know, now is the time to stop.
Mr. Collins, Mr. Bennet’s cousin who is to inherit the estate, arrives for a visit. It becomes clear his intention in visiting is to select a wife from among his cousins.
Mrs. Bennet deters him from Jane, his first choice, because of her relationship with Bingley. He settles on Lizzy, but she (like everyone else) finds him obnoxious and awkward and turns down his proposal. He very quickly moves on to Lizzy’s BFF Charlotte — who is plain, older, and in dire need of security.
Meanwhile, the sisters go to town and meet an officer named Wickham. An awkward encounter reveals that Wickham and Darcy have a history. Wickham makes claims that Darcy withheld the inheritance due him as a favorite of Darcy’s late father. He also speaks ill of his sister, Georgiana.
Lizzy, having already made up her mind about Darcy, believes him. Talk among others at Bingley’s ball hints that Wickham’s story may not be totally accurate, but Lizzy continues to believe Darcy is a pompous jerk. Oh, and apparently Darcy is promised to marry his cousin — and Mr. Collin’s patroness’ daughter — Anne de Bourgh.
Bingley quits Netherfield and heads for town without a word to Jane. A letter from Caroline indicates Bingley won’t be returning all winter and that she expects he will fall for Darcy’s sister. Lizzy supposes this may be Caroline’s wishful thinking — as her brother’s match with a Darcy would allow reason for her to hope for one as well. Jane is very grieved by the turn of events. Mrs. Bennet is too, as the chances with two potential beaus have gone from probable (in her mind) to slim to none.
- “They [my attentive compliments] arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.” — Mr. Collins (Ch. 14)
- “Mr. Wickham is blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends — whether he may be equally capable of retaining them , is less certain.” — Mr. Darcy (Ch. 18)
- “And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection.” — Mr. Collins (Ch. 19)
- “You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so.” — Lizzy (Ch. 19)
- “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 the elegant females.” — Mr. Collins (Ch. 19)
- “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. — Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” — Mr. Bennet (Ch. 20)
- “People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! — But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.” — Mrs. Bennet (Ch. 20)
Hatred is Okay
As I was saying, the fact that I hate these characters — Wickham and Collins — so intensely is a good thing. Well . . . it’s a good thing for Jane Austen as a writer. There’s little good (if any) to say about Wickham and Collins.
My intense emotions as a reader speak to Jane’s skill of characterizing as a writer. She doesn’t just say “Mr. Collins proposal made Lizzy feel awkward.” He is awkward. Everything about the situation – from his word choice and phrasing to his thick-headed response to being declined – is awkward. And because she masterfully demonstrated this quality, Lizzy isn’t the only one to want to dash out of the room. I keep hand sanitizer nearby when I read that scene simply because I always feel an uncontrollable need to cleanse myself of his ickiness.
Also, I have to say, this section contains two of my favorite scenes of the entire book.
- When Collins takes Mr. Bennet’s joking question about the creation of his “little delicate compliments which are always acceptable to ladies” seriously and long-windedly answers with equal obtuseness. All the while our sharp-witted Lizzy silently exchanges bemused glances with her father at Collins’ expense throughout dinner. I find it striking — especially in comparison with the ridiculous trope (which I assume existed in Austen’s day as well) that women are incessantly chattering airheads and men are the strong, silent geniuses. Puh-leez.
- When Collins proposes marriage to Lizzy (who was interchangeable in his eyes with her sister Jane) and gives the most absurd and shallow reasons for marrying I’ve ever heard. Meanwhile, Lizzy (whose life and family literally could depend on her marrying) and gives a supremely graceful, well-thought-out rejection for a pragmatic reason — they won’t make each other happy. And then in response to his sexist accusations that she is trifling with him for sport or (because — God forbid — another offer may not come her way) to make herself feel better about having to make him chase her, she responds, “Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.” Is there a heroine more admirable than one who can gracefully and resolutely speak her mind as Lizzy does? “
Ten Random Thoughts While Reading
- Ack! Collins is the most insufferable, sexist character ever. Every time he says “ladies” I shiver a little.
- Seriously if his awkwardness didn’t give way to so many great lines (and if Mr. Bennet and Lizzy’s responses weren’t so spot on) I would skip this section entirely.
- Ever since I saw the movie, each time I read “Lady Catherine de Bourgh” I immediately picture Judi Dench looking down her nose at me.
- I generally enjoy sermons at church, but who the heck wants to listen to someone read old-school sermons? Unless his voice sounds like Morgan Freeman‘s, I’m going to pass.
- For as wise and wonderful as Lizzy is in handling Collins, she’s off her game where Wickham is concerned. Wake up, girl. Biggest. Liar. Ever.
- You’re wasting your breath, Darcy. She won’t believe a word you say about Wickham.
- Okay, dude needs a reality check. How dense can you be? Lizzy is NOT INTERESTED in you Collins.
- Mr. Bennet rocks as a dad. However, he shows poor judgment in his choice of wife. Woman is total wackjob.
- Yeah, let’s cry over a spilled Collins proposal. Cuz it’s really SUCH a loss to your family not to inbreed with the kooky relative.
- Poor Charlotte! Stuck with Collins AND her BFF isn’t really talking to her anymore. Lamesauce.