Elizabeth’s first offer of marriage comes in the form of Mr Collins, Mr Bennet’s cousin. Mr Collins is introduced in chapter 13 in a somewhat comic way by Mr Bennet, when he informs the family of a letter that he has received from Collins. From the letter we can gain a lot of insight into Collins’ personality and attitudes. He first writes about the ‘disagreement subsisting between yourself (Mr Bennet) and my (Collins’) late father’, and then moves on to write about the ‘Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh’.
He is showing off his high connections by using her full name, suggesting that he thinks that he is important because he knows her. He also describes her as having ‘bounty and beneficence’, words which mean the same thing, and so only one of these is needed. He has false humility and uses exaggerated, formal language. He gives a hint of his further plans (i. e. to marry one of the Bennet sisters), and it seems that he is only visiting because Lady Catherine has allowed him to, ‘Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday’.
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He is lacking in manners as he simply invites himself to stay without asking the Bennets to see if they mind, but at the same time he is obsequious, as he is over-apologetic and likes to flatter. After reading the letter to the rest of the family Mr Bennet mocks Mr Collins, and it appears that the only reason he wants to meet him is so that he can mock him further. Mr Bennet realises that although Mr Collins seems to be polite and gracious, he finds his formality amusing and knows that he is actually proud and self-obsessed.
Collins is snobbish as he has such great respect for Lady Catherine, but only because of her status and wealth. Elizabeth sees Collins as an ‘oddity’ and having “something very pompous in his style”, and she doubts he can be sensible. Collins has an ulterior motive in visiting the Bennets – to find a wife. He first sets his sights on Jane as she is the prettiest and the eldest, but when he finds out that she is soon to be engaged, he quickly moves onto Elizabeth, showing his casual attitude to marriage, ‘Mr Collins had only to change from Jane to Elizabeth – and it was soon to be done – done while Mrs Bennet was stirring the fire’.
Collins thinks that he can soften the blow of him owning the estate by marrying one of the daughters. He thinks he is being generous, but really he is big-headed and arrogant. His choice of Elizabeth was a change of plan rather than a change of heart – it’s not about feelings at all. Mrs Bennet is also hypocritical and changeable, ‘and the man whom she (Mrs Bennet) could not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good graces’. Collins’ proposal comes at a bad time as it is when Elizabeth’s feelings for Wickham are growing.
Austen uses words such as ‘orderly’, ‘regular’, and ‘business’ to describe Collins’ proposal. These words make the proposal seem calculated, cold and artificial. It is more like a business contract, and is not based on feelings. When Collins addresses Mrs Bennet about speaking to Elizabeth alone, she becomes very excited, “Oh dear! – Yes – certainly! “, whereas Elizabeth is agitated and wants to escape as she was ‘vexed and embarrassed’. Collins’ opening statement is simply flattery, but the way he just runs it out shows us that he has been practising.
He tells her that he chose her out of her other sisters, which is a lie as he only chose Elizabeth after he realised that she may be married soon. He is false and artificial, “but before I am runaway with my feelings on this subject”. Collins has no real feelings towards Elizabeth, and there is certainly nothing passionate or romantic about his list of reasons for marrying him, which are that it is his duty as a clergyman to set “the example of matrimony in his parish”; marriage will add to his happiness, which seems a bit selfish; and that Lady Catherine has advised him to marry.
He talks about “when we are married”, rather than if. Elizabeth is clever in that she suggests that Lady Catherine wouldn’t approve of her, but he dismisses this as a reason. After she has refused him for the second time he still thinks she is joking, and gives another list of reasons why she should marry him. Firstly, he would make a good husband as he has a lot to offer; he has a high status; his connections with the family de Bourgh; he is heir to the estate; and he believes that no one else will want to marry her. After she has refused him yet again, he thinks that her parents will persuade her to accept his proposal.
However, Elizabeth believes that her father will get her out of the situation. Elizabeth is polite to Collins despite his embarrassing attempts at being gallant. Collins doesn’t match the image of a lover, and although he tries to be romantic, he comes across as patronising and conceited. They are a very unsuited match, however, the marriage would be good because the family might not get thrown off the estate. The proposal shows Collins’ pride and the fact that he thinks that Lady Catherine is a factor shows his lack of self-awareness and of Elizabeth and her feelings.
His reasons for marriage are shallow and materialistic, and he wants to climb the social ladder by following Lady Catherine’s wishes. Collins simply needs someone to marry him. He does not care about love or beauty. Thus, When he meets Charlotte Lucas, it is obvious they can satisfy each others needs because Collins needs a wife to present to Lady Catherine and Charlotte is in danger of becoming an old maid. Their contract of marriage was based on absolutely no physical attraction or true love. Their marriage could be classified as a typical marriage of the time.
Their marriage was convenient. Charlotte is happy because she receives a home and secure social standing. Collins is pleased because he can go on about his duties to Lady Catherine. Elizabeth does not comprehend why someone would marry without any true love for his or her wife or husband. The most likely cause of her lack of understanding probably results from growing up in a household where her mother and father showed no affection whatsoever for each other. Elizabeth is mindful of her father’s mistake in marrying her mother. The two had nothing in common with each other.