Everyone has their favorite film version of Pride and Prejudice, mine is the 1995 BBC production for many reasons—not the least of which is Colin Firth. Apologies to those who sigh over Matthew Macfadyen, but I have always had a soft spot for dark, brown, puppy dog eyes.
Let us not quibble over Darcy, but rather, skip along to view Mr. Collins as portrayed by David Bamber in the 1995 version. Though not exactly true to Jane Austen’s description of Mr. Collins, Bamber is delightfully repugnant in both appearance and manners. I imagine that every woman watching him cavort through the story finds herself backing away while thinking, not me!
As I happily created my latest novel, DARCY, LIZZY AND EMMA, the thought occurred to me that if Emma were to perform her matchmaking magic on behalf of Mr. Collins, he would need some sprucing up. David Bamber manages to encapsulate all the qualities that might make ladies and gentlemen run in the opposite direction. But how can Emma help this poor man without hurting his feelings for his ego is fragile and his need to please borders on desperate? In my Regency variation, Emma has only just met Mr. Collins and so she gingerly begins to mentor him.
Although Emma had spent only a few hours in Mr. Collins’ presence, she observed in him the same lonely, pitiful actions as that of Miss Bates, the official spinster of Highbury. The dear lady spent much of her time seeking the company of others, but in her frantic pursuit for companionship she had become a mindless chatterer, who drove people away.
Emma determined to be as gentle as possible with the rector, knowing that it is a truth universally acknowledged, a single man in possession of an entailment, must be in want of a wife—most particularly one who stands to lose her home through said entailment.
Emma felt her skills were sharpened to a fine point. She observed that the studious nature, piety, and moral dictates of Miss Mary Bennet would make her the ideal match for Mr. Collins. However, both the gentleman and lady needed some polishing; the truth was that they both lacked self-esteem. Emma had vowed to match Jane, Elizabeth, and Charlotte within a fortnight. Now she had added Mary to her list, as it could not be helped for Emma saw her as a perfect fit for Mr. Collins.
“Mr. Collins, I am a lady who advises gentlemen on how to comport themselves in order to attract a wife,” Emma said. “I have decided to share my talents with you, if you will allow me to advise you for a few days, I shall have you happily married.”
The rector appeared startled. Miss Woodhouse was a matchmaker—how ideal! She would help him win the affections of Miss Elizabeth!
“As in all of nature, some behaviors attract and some repel. But this I do not have to tell you, since you are a man schooled in the workings of the human soul,” Emma knew a touch of flattery would build his ego. “In order to attract a worthy lady you must improve upon both your countenance and your conversation,” Emma said. “Give me leave to help you and we shall make you into the most charming of gentlemen in a very short time.”
Mr. Collins seemed to accept her observations, so she continued. “Do you know what first attracts a lady to a man?” she asked. “His smiling eyes.”
Taking her advice literally, he squinted his eyes. Emma recalled Elizabeth saying Mr. Collins looked like a mole. She found herself agreeing with her friend. The more he narrowed his eyes, the more he appeared rodent-like.
“No. Not that way,” she smiled kindly thinking him childlike. “Keep the smile within your eyes, but do not wrinkle your face.” Long minutes later, when Emma thought she might not be able to contain her giggles, she informed the rector that he had it just right—he did not, but the constant twitching around his button eyes had become more than she could tolerate.
She glanced at his teeth, which resembled an old wooden fence. There was nothing to be done for them, as they were what they were. She would focus on his hair. “Ladies admire a man with clean, fresh hair. You must cease to use sheep tallow, for frankly it has a repulsive fragrance.”
He ran his hand over his hair, casting a surprised look at Emma. “But I thought it gave my hair a set appearance?” He took a yellowed handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the grease off his hand.
“To attract a lady, one of the things you must have is clean hair. It must smell like the breeze, and move in the wind,” Emma said. She reached in her dress pocket and pulled out a small blue bottle of perfumed ablution. “This is for your hair. I suggest you first wash the tallow out with lye soap and then use this. Do not attempt to court a lady until you have cleaned your hair.”
Mr. Collins looked stunned. No one had ever talked to him like this; he appreciated her candor. His mother died when he was but a babe and his father had little to do with him; there had been no nursemaids to advise him. He understood Miss Woodhouse was merely being kind and accepted the bottle, thanking her. He had grown accustomed to the scent of sheep tallow and did not realize it offended. What must Lady Catherine think of him?
Emma could see she had a willing student and so she continued, “Do you know what women appreciate most in a man?”
He nodded, a disappointed look showed upon his hollow cheeks. “Wealth.”
“Besides wealth. A man must be a good listener. He must be able to repeat back to the lady he fancies all that she has said.”
“But I am known for my conversation. Lady Catherine can vouch for my amusing anecdotes and frequent compliments.” A feeling of gloom settled over him. No wonder Miss Elizabeth had brought him to Miss Woodhouse. He had bumbled his first attempts at courting his cousin. He was certain she had brought him here for counseling. Once he had washed the tallow from his hair, he would try again. But now he struggled to concentrate on Miss Woodhouse’s instructions.
“By the bye, too many compliments sound insincere. You must limit yourself to one compliment per encounter,” Emma said. “Do you think you can do that?”
“I shall practice my compliments this very afternoon!” he said.
“No! A compliment must come on the moment and be sincere. Look at the lady and note the first thing you see—be it her lovely dress, or the flowers in her hair. But say only one thing and do not practice.”
“I shall try,” he said, again understanding how clumsy he been in trying to win the heart of Miss Elizabeth.
“Let us consider conversation. You must think of yourself as the listener, not the speaker. As much as you might wish to, do not, under any circumstances go on about Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Rosings. I know how much they mean to you, but they weaken your desirability,” Emma noted the incredulity on the rector’s face. She had taken his only talking point.
“There is a ball at Netherfield, next Tuesday. You are to read a book, a novel, by then. During the ball, you must listen to the lady and should you be required to speak, then speak of this novel. Go now to Mr. Bennet and ask him to suggest a book that has stimulated controversy. Borrow that book and read it. Talk no more of Lady Catherine if you wish to find a wife in Meryton.”
Emma excused herself and hurried back to the tea party. She must have some private time with Mary. The girl may not be as easy to instruct as Mr. Collins for he is a man on a mission; whereas Mary does not seem interested in marriage.
Mr. Collins watched his mentor leave the garden, thankful she had helped him. It was clear Miss Woodhouse acted as a go-between. He vowed that by the night of the ball he would woo Miss Elizabeth.
A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
What if Emma Woodhouse, Jane Austen’s most tenacious character, arrives in Meryton to visit her Bingley cousins and determines to perform a little match making? Emma has a fortnight to meet her promise ~ three matches for her three friends, Elizabeth, Jane, and Charlotte. What could possibly go wrong? What could possibly go right?
Take a full cup of humor; add a sprinkling of angst and stir. Bake for a fortnight, and presto: three happy endings, or maybe even four? This is a full length Darcy and Elizabeth Regency novel. I hope you enjoy it! I love to hear from my readers. Please contact me at one of the many links at the end of this book. Reviews are very, very much appreciated. Thank you for your wonderful comments on my slightly comedic take on Jane Austen’s classics. I like to think Jane would have enjoyed them.
Many thanks to David Bamber for creating such a memorable Mr. Collins!
With love & laughter!