This post is to be the first of many blogs dedicated to some of the secondary characters in Jane Austen’s novels, whom I have found amusing, annoying, misunderstood or plain evil. Since Pride and Prejudice is my favourite of all of Austen’s novels, I am going to start by one of its characters, who, in my opinion, is quite priceless. Of course, I am speaking of Mr. Collins.
Mr. Collins, the annoying, self-important cousin who is understandably disliked by everybody, but whose presence adds so much life to the novel. Think about it; where would we be without him? I cannot count the number of times I have read and laughed at his conversations in the novel. But I do not think that he was written in the story merely to provide entertainment, or in some cases, annoyance. I think he is more important than that.
I know he makes one cringe, but I think that is because he is such a real person. Darcy is too amazing to be real. I mean, who has actually ever met a man as magnificent as Darcy in real life? But we all have known a Mr. Collins in our lives, have we not? We all have known a person who would be stupid enough to say something like:
“They 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.”
I think Collins’ words pretty much sum up his character. He is a small man with a big opinion of himself. But I cannot help think that were he not written in the story, our beloved novel would not be as magnificent as it is. And I think the reason for that is that Mr. Collins’ character stands in great contrast to Darcy’s. In fact, except for one matter, the two men could not be more different. Their only similarity is that they were both presumptuous where Elizabeth was concerned and they both delivered the most disastrous proposals. But of course, where Collins simply replaced Elizabeth with another woman, Darcy took her words to heart and proved himself worthy in the end. And this, I think, is what makes Mr. Collins so indispensable to the storyline. He is not evil like Wickham; he is simply a man with little understanding and even less character.
What do you think? Do you like Mr. Collins as a fictional character? What is your favourite quote from him? Do you like how he was represented in the 1995 and 2005 versions of Pride and Prejudice?
Below is a small part of a chapter from my novel, To Save and Protect, where Mr. Collins entertains us with his charm and wit.
It was at that moment that the door to the drawing room opened and Mr. Collins rushed in, his face damp with perspiration and his breathing labored. “My dear Mrs. Collins, I have brought back the cook,” he said triumphantly. “It was not an easy task, I assure you. In fact, it was a very difficult task, which needed great tact and knowledge, which I am sure you will agree I possess. The cook was adamant that she would not return until these reprehensible murderers were apprehended. She was, in fact, inconsolable at first, thinking that the murderers had targeted her. I had to use my skills at negotiation and convince her to return to the house.”
Mrs. Collins looked at Mr. Darcy hesitantly, embarrassed by her husband’s words.
Suddenly noticing the other occupants of the room, Mr. Collins dropped to a deep bow. “Mr. Darcy, I have brought the staff back as you have instructed, sir.”
“I am very glad to hear that,” Mr. Darcy said. “I am sure it is a relief to Mrs. Collins to have the cook back.”
“It is, and if you will excuse me, I will go and speak to her now,” Mrs. Collins said, no longer able to watch her husband’s ridiculous behavior. She curtseyed and left the room.
“I have to say, sir,” Mr. Collins said after his wife left, “I am quite proud of my accomplishment today. Lady Catherine would be pleased to hear it, I am sure.”
“Pray, who is this … er … gentleman?” Lord Paisley asked, examining Mr. Collins through his quizzing glass as if he was a rare specimen.
“This is Mr. Collins,” Mr. Darcy introduced, “He is Lady Catherine’s parson. Mr. Collins, this is Lord Paisley and Captain Sandry.”
Mr. Collins’ eyes grew wide at the introductions. He bowed again. “May I say, my Lord, and of course Captain Sandry, how honored I am to welcome you to my humble abode. Seldom has my house had the privilege to welcome so many distinguished gentlemen.”
“Mr. Collins?” Lord Paisley asked incredulously. “Do you mean he is Mrs. Collins’ husband?”
“Naturally,” Mr. Darcy said with a hint of amusement. “He is also Miss Bennet’s cousin.”
“How depressing!” Lord Paisley remarked as he lowered his quizzing glass. “Life is full of disappointments.”
Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled with humor.
Lord Paisley, noticing her amusement, smiled at her. “As I am sure Miss Elizabeth would agree,” he said, his eyes dancing with mischief.
Fully enjoying the humor in Lord Paisley’s tone, Elizabeth smiled back. “Indeed, my Lord,” Elizabeth said, “but then, I have always been fortunate as to find humor in even the most disappointing of situations.”
Lord Paisley’s eyes grew in astonishment and appreciation. He smiled a crooked smile. “What a singular talent, Miss Elizabeth!”
“I believe humor is significant to one’s happiness,” Elizabeth said, “Life without humor would be so dull.”
“Believe me, Miss Elizabeth, life with you will be anything but dull,” Lord Paisley said.
Mr. Darcy cleared his voice and glared at Lord Paisley.
“Tell us, if you please, Mr. Collins,” Lord Paisley said, completely ignoring Mr. Darcy’s glare. “How were you able to convince the cook to return with you?”
“Well, my lord, it has always been my observation that females are not averse to compliments, and whether such compliments are well-deserved or over-exaggerated rarely signifies.”
“How wonderfully observant of you, Mr. Collins,” Lord Paisley remarked, his lips twitching with amusement. “Tell us more.”
“I began by offering the cook compliments about her superb cooking skills,” Mr. Collins said, quite pleased with himself. “I even went so far as to say that Lady Catherine herself had commented on her cooking.”
“I take it the praises and the compliments did not prove successful in bringing the cook back?” Lord Paisley asked.
“You would be right, my lord,” Mr. Collins said, shaking his head.
“I am beginning to see your point, Miss Elizabeth. There is great humor to be found in disappointing circumstances, even in disappointing people,” Lord Paisley said, which caused Elizabeth to stifle a laugh and Mr. Darcy to roll his eyes at them both.
“Pray continue Mr. Collins. I am eager to find out what talents you used to convince the cook to return,” Lord Paisley said.
“Well, my lord, once compliments proved futile, I resorted to other methods of persuasion.”
“Such as?” Lord Paisley asked.
“I offered her certain benefits upon her return,” Mr. Collins said smugly.
“Bribery?” Lord Paisley asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Incentives, sir,” Mr. Collins corrected, offended.
“Of course,” Lord Paisley said. “How dim-witted of me! Pray, what incentives did you offer?”
“I offered her an additional day of rest per month, sir, for which she was grateful.”
“But not grateful enough to accept to return?” Lord Paisley asked sarcastically.
“No, sir. She is quite greedy, I must say.”