“I do not have the pleasure of understanding your meaning,” Darcy said, not moving from his relaxed position.
Collins walked first to the dressing table, then the window. Admitting his failure to himself last evening had been challenging. Admitting it to his friends, whom he admired greatly, was nearly impossible. It was not that he was necessarily a proud creature, but he was a man. And like any man whom he knew, he did not like to be found wanting. He shook his head. How many times had he been told he was wanting? Far too many to recall the exact number. He should find it much easier than he did, given all that practice.
“Saunders applied to Mr. Bennet for permission to present a courtship to Miss Kitty.”
“I still do not see how that means you must forego the waistcoat with red in it,” grumbled Bingley.
“A red coat, not a red waistcoat, would serve me better,” Collins retorted.
“An offer does not mean an acceptance,” Darcy inserted. “Elizabeth did not accept me the first time I presented my request.”
“Precisely!” Bingley said, waving his hand toward Darcy. “Have you told Miss Kitty that you admire her?”
Collins swallowed. “That was not part of my instruction.”
He looked anywhere but at Bingley or Darcy. He had never stood in opposition to any of his instructors — ever — in all of his life. He had never even attempted to oppose his father. He had been as accommodating as possible, even taking responsibility for failures that were not his own.
“It is now.” Bingley stood directly before him with the red waistcoat in his hand. “Tell her you admire her or wear this, and do not go to Hunsford. Fight for her, man!”
Collins stared at the red waistcoat, then shook his head. “I do not know how to fight.” His words were barely above a whisper.[Master of Longbourn, Chapter 11]
Last month, when I ended my post, I told you there was a statement in Master of Longbourn which I wished to talk about this month. That statement is the one highlighted in the above excerpt.
In Master of Longbourn, there are two journeys on which I take Mr. Collins. One is the outward journey that Mr. Collins takes and is what the other characters in the story see. This is him fitting in and falling in love. The second is the inner journey which the reader sees through Collins’s thoughts and the other characters get glimpses of through comments that he makes. This is him overcoming what his father has told him he is and will be.
As I progressed with Mr. Collins on this inner journey from what he saw himself as to what he wished to be, the sentence I highlighted in the excerpt, “I do not know how to fight,” caused me to pause. It didn’t seem right. I deleted it and tried again, but Mr. Collins’s reply was the same. I tried convincing him that he should change his response three times, but he refused. And then, as I considered where we had started and where we were going and what was happening with Bingley standing there holding out the bothersome red waistcoat, a light went off and the response made sense.
Mr. Collins had a horrible father. He was “an unpleasant, angry man.” Those are the word used by Collins to describe his father just after this exchange with Kitty:
“Why would you think that?” She lifted the hand that held hers and kissed it. “Are you well?” she asked when he did not answer her query.
“I have never been kissed before,” he said softly.
Her eyes grew wide. “What? Never?”
He shook his head.
“Not even on your hand or your cheek?”
He goes on to tell her how he decided as a young boy to not be like his father and how he had to face
a great deal of reproof for being weak, for weakness is what my father called kindness.
This is why I thought that statement was wrong at first. This man has been fighting against his father’s decrees that he will amount to nothing and that he is weak and nothing more than a lumpy pudding all his life. So, what was happening at this point in his journey that made Collins feel as if he didn’t know how to fight?
One word. Failure.
Let me explain a bit of what has happened in the story before we get to this red-waistcoat moment.
Collins has arrived at Longbourn and has been accepted into this wonderful family and group of friends who are willing to see the best in him. They (for the most part) do not put him down. They encourage him and offer help. He begins to see himself as what he wants to be — the master of Longbourn, complete with skills to run the place and a pretty wife of his choosing at his side.
And then, Captain Saunders makes his request to make an offer to Kitty, and Collins overhears part of a conversation between sisters. These things lead him to believe that he has failed. The years of proving his father wrong and the days of study under Darcy and Bingley’s tutelage are going to end in failure. He will be the master of Longbourn when Mr. Bennet dies, but he will be the last master of Longbourn for he begins to accept what his father said about his never being able to secure a wife and therefore an heir.
His efforts have failed. He doesn’t know what else to do. He has used up all of his resources and has nothing left.
However, there is that red waistcoat being held out in front of him, and he must make a decision. Will he put it on or will he leave it there in Bingley’s hand? And why does it matter whether he wears that piece of clothing or something else?
Here are the lines following Collins’s admission of defeat and inability to continue fighting.
“Then wear the waistcoat, and allow us to help you,” said Darcy.
Collins paused at the offer. He was not sure that even Darcy could help him win Kitty at present, but his heart would not allow him to give up without one more attempt, so he nodded and shrugged out of his jacket.
Darcy has said in one other place in this story that Collins is no longer alone. That is a very new thing to Collins, for he has been alone, fighting his fight against his father’s words for his entire life. However, by choosing the waistcoat, he would be choosing to no longer be alone, which means the statement that seemed out of place and the waistcoat that seemed insignificant at first blush comprise the pivotal moment in Mr. Collins’s inner journey.
Now, the events which follow Collins’s decision could go either direction. He may or may not win Kitty’s heart. Collins does not know what Kitty will do when presented with Saunder’s offer. He does not know that the conversation he overheard was a lie to keep Lydia in the dark. He was not present as we, the readers, are when Kitty is crying over possibly having to accept Saunders. He just knows that he must either choose lonely failure or one more attack, flanked by his brothers.
And it is that decision to put on the waistcoat and to move forward one more time which enables him to vanquish his father’s words once and for all and allows him to become what he desires to be — the Master of Longbourn, not just in title but to the very core of his being.
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