First published in early 1813, Pride and Prejudice has consistently been one of Jane Austen’s most popular novels. It perfectly captures gentry life during the early decades of the 19th century, and tells of one of the most famous and cherished love stories in English literature history: the relationship between Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Austen wittily shows the initial misunderstandings, and later the undying love, between the lively and quick witted Elizabeth and the haughty Mr Darcy. We see how these two lovers overcome various hurdles and stumbling blocks, before they accept the fact that they are in love, and, much to the readers delight, the pair happily marry.
Pride and Prejudice is set in the Victorian era, during the early 19th century. It was a time when society was totally patriarchal, and a woman’s role in the community, and at home, was only to be a dedicated wife and mother. Women had very few legal rights, and for a woman to be unmarried was deemed unacceptable. As inheritance was passed to the next male in the family, women were under constant pressure to marry young, and gain financial security. Elizabeth Bennet, much like her creator Jane Austen, broke the traditions and conventions of the time, by refusing to marry for anything less than true love. The novel clearly follows the principles of society during the early 19th century, in which women married rarely for love, but for status, family ties, and financial security. Elizabeth Bennet however, reflects Jane Austen’s fairly modern morals, in which women should only marry for love, passion and respect.
This becomes clear when Elizabeth declines Mr Collins’ proposal. Economically, it makes perfect sense for these two cousins to marry, as he is to inherit the Longbourn Estate, and can therefore offer her a very secure and comfortable future. Elizabeth however, would never dream of marrying Mr Collins: she only believes in marrying for love, and she certainly doesn’t love Mr Collins! Neither, it becomes clear, does Elizabeth’s friend Charlotte Lucas, but when later proposed to by Mr Collins, she readily accepts as she tells Elizabeth, “I have no prospects, no money and I am a burden to my parents.” Charlotte’s situation was unfortunately very common during the early 19th century, as many women had to marry without love to gain financial security. Through Elizabeth’s reaction to the news, Austen clearly disapproves of marrying without love.
From the moment Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth, it is clear to the audience that she will not accept his hand in marriage. His offer is dull and dreary, and is completely unacceptable as the protagonist’s proposal. Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen’s most prized character, and she deserves a much more fervent and impulsive proposal. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a lot of emphasis in story writing was placed on marriage and proposals. A characters’ proposal could be determined, due to how extravagant and ornate it was. A perfect example of the ideal proposal, is from Mr Rochester to Jane Eyre, in the novel “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte. His proposal is spontaneous, passionate and full of enthusiasm – a far cry from Elizabeth’s own. This kind of proposal is much more appropriate for the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, and is greatly appealing to the reader.
Throughout the proposal of Mr Collins to Elizabeth, Austen uses many humour devices, such as satire and irony, to make Collins look absolutely ridiculous. During his introduction to the proposal, Mr Collins says, “But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it will be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying.” This is ironic, as it is obvious that Mr Collins has no feelings for Elizabeth: “The idea of Mr Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings, made Elizabeth so near laughing” shows the reader that Elizabeth did not take Mr Collins seriously, and ridiculed him from the start.
During the proposal, Mr Collins is very aloof and suggests marriage as if it is a business deal: “My reasons for marrying are…” He uses formal language, and the proposal itself is far too cold and professional. He formally sets out what he can offer Elizabeth, and tries to persuade her to marry him, purely based on materialistic possessions rather than love. He also manages to make his proposal sound all about him, instead of Elizabeth, who should really be the centre of attention during this proposal. All the way through his offer of marriage, Mr Collins constantly talks about Lady Catherine de Bourgh – “Twice she has condescended to give me her opinion (unasked too!)”. This statement proves that Mr Collins is obsessed with Lady Catherine: By Austen using brackets and exclamation marks, the reader gets the feeling that Mr Collins is extremely grateful that Lady Catherine speaks to him, and is so flattered that he is unable to see that Lady Catherine is manipulating him.
When Elizabeth refuses his proposal, Mr Collins doesn’t take her seriously, and sees her rejection simply as female coquetry: “It is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept”. This quote confirms his beliefs that Elizabeth is just pretending to refuse. He cannot accept her answer, and only seems to realise that she has said “no”, when Elizabeth storms out of the room. Throughout the proposal, Mr Collins acts extremely ignorant and arrogant. He believes that he is so much above Elizabeth socially; that there is no way that she will refuse his proposal. This is, of course, utterly ridiculous as they are both in the same social class, and Mr Collins is far too stupid to be married to the protagonist Elizabeth. Mr Collins however, believes otherwise: “It is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made to you” he tells Elizabeth. This is not a very nice thing to say to Elizabeth, and is ironic on two counts: One, because he is trying to persuade her to marry him; And two, because she does get more offers of marriage.
Mr Collins knows that Mrs Bennet would allow himself and Elizabeth to marry, but he also believes that Mr Bennet would accept the marriage. The reader however, knows that Mr Bennet would never allow it, as he knows that Mr Collins is not good enough for his favourite daughter Elizabeth: “Your mother will never speak to you again if you don’t marry him [Mr Collins], and I will never speak to you again if you do”. This statement from Mr Bennet, proves that the match is completely absurd, and Mr Collins was stupid to even think that Elizabeth would accept his offer.
Mr Darcy’s proposal demonstrates how his feelings towards Elizabeth have changed since his earlier dismissal of her as “not handsome enough”. While Elizabeth rejects his proposal, this event marks the turning point in the novel. Before Darcy asked Elizabeth to marry him, she felt only disrespect and contempt for him; afterwards, she begins to see him in a new light. She dwells on his proposal and thinks about him all of the time. Jane Austen paraphrases Darcy’s proposal as it is more sophisticated and it makes the reader feel sorry for Darcy.
Throughout the novel, Darcy uses short words and sentences, and shows no signs of emotions when he speaks. This changes during his proposal to Elizabeth. He talks fast and uses emotions in his voice. He acts completely out of character and Austen uses punctuation such as exclamation marks to show his feelings on the matter: “And this” cried Darcy, as he walked with quick steps across the room, “is your opinion of me! This is the estimation in which you hold me! I thank you for explaining it so fully.” By using the word “cried”, Jane Austen gives Darcy a sense of breakdown and insecurity. He is losing control over the situation, which is completely out of character, as he is usually very composed. Austen also goes on to use exclamation marks before including irony and satire in her work – Mr Darcy is being ironic as he is not grateful of her explaining how mean he is: he loves her. He is unusually agitated, and uses a lot of body language during his proposal, which he doesn’t usually do.
Mr Darcy’s proposal was totally unexpected: “Elizabeth’s astonishment was beyond expression. She stared, coloured, doubted, and was totally silent”. This shows the proposal was unexpected, as Elizabeth acts totally out of character. Darcy has an immediate realisation of her rejection, but demands to know why. This shows, through his words and body language, that he very much loves Elizabeth and is extremely upset by her refusal.
She may be in love but Elizabeth still thinks about Darcy’s arrogance, his original attempts to interfere in Bingley’s romance with Jane, and his alleged mistreatment of Wickham. “In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you”. As the previous quote shows, Darcy spends more time emphasizing her lower rank of social status, than he does declaring his love. “He was not more eloquent on the subject of the tenderness than of pride” the narrator states; Darcy must first prioritize his love for Elizabeth, over his sense of superiority, before he is worthy of the great heroines’ hand in marriage.
Despite a lot of differences between Mr Darcy’s and Mr Collins’ proposals, there are also several factors that appear similar between the two. Firstly, both men expect Elizabeth to accept their proposals: “It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy of your acceptance” says Mr Collins. He thinks that he is so fantastic, and has such good “connections with the family of De Bourgh” that there is no way any woman can refuse his hand in marriage. During Mr Darcy’s proposal, the narrator says “she could easily see that he has no doubt of a favourable answer”. This shows that Mr Darcy also expected Elizabeth to say yes.
Another similarity between the proposals, is that both men consider themselves above Elizabeth socially, although technically, neither are. During Mr Darcy’s proposal, the narrator says “His sense of her inferiority – of it being a degradation”. This shows that Darcy feels that Elizabeth is in a lower social class than he is. The text gives the impression that Mr Darcy feels like he has no control over his feelings, and he is giving up a lot to propose to Elizabeth. This is, of course, completely untrue, as both Elizabeth and Mr Darcy have the same social status. Mr Collins is also in the same social class as Elizabeth and Mr Darcy, but throughout his proposal, he uses language to suggest otherwise: he manipulates his relationship with Lady Catherine De Bourgh to boost his social status. He is unable to see however, that Elizabeth cares very little who he has “connections” with.
The final similarity between the two proposals, is that neither men place the emphasis of their proposal on love. All throughout Mr Collins’ proposal, he doesn’t mention the word “love”, and instead states that he wants to marry for three reasons: One, because he wants to set a good example in his church; Two, because he believes it will make him happy; And three, because “it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour of calling patroness”. In other words: because Lady Catherine De Bourgh told him to. No-where does he say that he wants to marry because he loves Elizabeth. Mr Darcy however, does say that he loves Elizabeth, but he says it in such a way, that instead of sounding romantic, it sounds forced and false. After saying that he loved her, Darcy goes on to say that she is lower than him socially, and proposing is the wrong thing to do, even if he does love her. This is obviously not the right thing to say to Elizabeth, so Mr Darcy’s proposal gets rejected as well.
The first time Mr Collins asks Elizabeth to dance, she begrudgingly accepts, but the whole experience is utterly mortifying and ridiculous, as is his first proposal. At Mr Bingley’s ball, Darcy asks Elizabeth to dance. She refuses, as she does his first proposal. The second time he asks her to dance she accepts, as she does his second proposal.
There are many more differences than similarities between the two proposals. Mr Collins’ proposal is very rehearsed and is more like a monologue than a proposal. He talks non-stop and Elizabeth and Mr Collins stand apart, with no eye contact. During Mr Darcy’s proposal however, Elizabeth and Mr Darcy stand next to each other, and have constant eye contact. The proposal is very spur-of-the-moment, and Darcy gives Elizabeth a chance to speak. He tells her exactly how he feels about her, and the proposal is passionate throughout. Austen uses emotive language during Darcy’s proposal, which makes the atmosphere constantly charged with emotions. Mr Collins’ proposal is a complete opposite to this. He shows no love or emotions, and his proposal is feeble and pathetic all the way through.
Overall, it is clear from the first moment that we meet Mr Collins, that he is not to be Elizabeth’s future husband, but we read in amazement, as both Elizabeth and Mr Darcy argue, make up and eventually fall in love. We see both characters overcome their prides and their prejudices, so they can find true love within one another.