This passage from Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice” significantly depicts the conventional way men perceived women’s role in their lives during the 18th century. Love as such didn’t exist, but the emphasis was placed on finding the convenient partnership between sons and daughters of families, who have great social status and prosperous backgrounds.
This can be immediately perceived from Mr. Collins’s introduction to Elizabeth Bennett, to whom he is about to propose. He explains that as a successful and wealthy clergyman, he must have a wife by his side. The way in which he talks about women and marriage itself, gives an impression that he would see Elizabeth as a possession he could add to his long chain of conquests. Marriage seems to be a method of fulfilment to him, to complete his live. This can be observed by Mr. Collins’s following quote:
“My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it is a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish”.
He continues to explain how his possible marriage to Elizabeth would bring him happiness. This adds to the humour of the passage, since Mr. Collins seems to be unconscious of his evident selfishness. He can’t understand how any woman would reject him in general, as he assumes they would all be pleased with a husband of his circumstances. That is why he is revealing his reasons for marriage in such an untactful manner. It also isn’t a coincidence that he superficially chose the prettiest and youngest of the Bennett daughters. This shows his priority in life, to achieve the best, and make himself as happy as possible. His arrogance reveals a prosperous past childhood, that is influencing his ruthless pursuit of Elizabeth. This can be sensed from his second reason for marrying:
“I am convinced it will add greatly to my happiness”.
Mr. Collins explains that Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the owner of the church at which he is a vicar, has given him advice on what kind of a woman he should marry. It is interesting to note that he is admitting that his choice is influenced by others advice as opposed to following his own ideas. Also, it must be asked, why would Lady Catherine involve herself in Mr. Collins’s personal life if it is clearly his own business? This gives an insight to the arrogance of those in power in the 18th century. Mr. Collin explains that Lady Catherine advised that “a clergyman like you must marry”, adding her opinion on the specific kind of woman he should find for himself. She describes that his future wife should be hard working and able to stretch little money a long way. Lady Catherine’s view on love is revealed here, showing her lack of romanticism, and opinion on the importance of financial stability in a marriage. She is following the conventional method of marriage that was very common in the 18th century.
It is curious that she explains that qualities his future wife should have, Lady Catherine states “Choose a gentlewomen for my sake” then later adds “and for your sake, let her be an active, useful sort of person”. It shows how she condescendingly puts herself first in this situation, even though it isn’t regarding her life. It is amusing when she adds how she will visit the girl he has chosen, showing that she is in control of the situation, and her decision will be the final one. It is similar to an examination, where Elizabeth must meet the qualities expected of her. Ironically enough Mr. Collins can only praise Lady Catherine, though in fact she is a deceiving and ruthless character as it turns out later in the book.
Mr. Collins continues his unconvincing proposal, without Elizabeth’s interruption. It is interesting that she remained quiet for such a long time, though she knew what her answer would be in the end. Her polite nature contrasts well with his arrogant and persistent one.
The next reason Mr. Collins lists as a reason for marrying Elizabeth is that he will inherit their estate after her fathers death, and by marrying her, he will minimize the pain for at least one of his daughters. This comment is completely inappropriate, as it not only mentions how her father’s death will be to his advantage, but exposes his materialistic intentions in this marriage. He is not doing a convincing job at showing sincere interest in her, mainly because he isn’t genuinely after her specifically, but the possession of an attractive wife and the financial advantages of marrying into the Bennett family.
He clearly isn’t motivated by love in the least, but a greedy thirst for money and personal fulfilment. His next quote to Elizabeth is explaining his “violent love” for her, which sounds threatening and possessive, showing his dominant personality, which cannot handle rejection.
Mr. Collins further ruins the situation about involving the death of Elizabeth’s mother as well. To make matters even worse, he explains that her mother’s deaths significance is that she will gain a limited amount of money, which he believes would allure her to marry him. Mr Collins demonstrates his lack of tact and experience in this situation, showing he isn’t aware of romance in a relationship, but supposes that women judge money as a deciding factor upon picking the right suitor. Whilst that statement would be correct of Elizabeth’s mother and sisters, but not for her. That can be seen when he states “You may assure yourself that no ungenerous reproach shall ever pass my lips when we are married”.
By this point Elizabeth has heard enough of Mr. Bennett’s uncompromising proposal, thus she finally decides to end this discussion by rejecting his offer. Rather then accept her answer, he waves his hand patronizingly and accuses her of waiting for multiple proposals before accepting him as her husband. It shows how Mr. Bennett not only misjudges women by drawing generalisations on all of them, he also in unconscious of his inappropriate attitude towards her. Elizabeth is worth more then Mr. Collins thinks, and she will not subject herself to marry someone just for the sake of it, but out of genuine feelings. Mr. Collins is incapable of understanding that, since his arrogance assures him of the impossibility of being rejected.
Elizabeth explains to him again about her indisputable rejection of his proposal, and shows consideration by adding “You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in theI world who could make you so”. Though her answer is based on her lack of interest in Mr. Collins, she knows that they wouldn’t suit each other as they are people of different priorities. Mr. Collins can’t comprehend that as a reason to not get married, as he believes if he will be happy, then the marriage should commence.
Also, the prospect of trying to prove herself to Lady Catherine is one not many girls would want to be subjected to. They should be told that they are chosen as wives, and leave it at that point, as opposed to being sent to other members of the family and friends who can test her for appropriateness.
Mr. Collins realises this, and firmly states that “I cannot imagine her ladyship would at all disapprove of you”. He is trying to assure her of his sincere feelings for her, but he is unconvincing due to his past comments. From the beginning of his speech, his self-centred ruthless and materialistic characteristics shined through. Elizabeth saw through his true intentions of gaining their land, their money, and the acceptance of Lady Catherine.
Elizabeth stands out as the most genuine character, seeing as she rejects the conventional beliefs of the 1800’s, and finds money an insignificant factor in determining a marriage choice. She admitted earlier that Mr. Collins could not make her happy, which reveals that it is only love she needs in a relationship, not money.
The reason this passage is so amusing is due to Mr. Collins’s untactful behaviour with Elizabeth. He didn’t begin with getting to know Elizabeth, or finding out whether they would make a good husband and wife. His main instinct was to pick out an attractive wife who he could allure with his financial promises. He was unaware that throughout their first conversation, he was unconsciously insulting her, and acting patronisingly materialistically.
Whilst Mr. Collins was self-assured and believed he could easily convince Elizabeth to spend the rest of her life with him, she easily saw through him, and exposed his true intentions with her. Elizabeth acted according to her instincts, and failed to accept the conventions that society has placed on her, marking her as a key character in the book.