Saturday, November 6, 2010

Write a brief character-sketch of Mr. William Collins, and indicate the importance of his role in the novel.

An Unforgettable Comic Character
Mr. William Collins is a memorable character. If the heroine of this novel is unforgettable, so is Mr. Collins, the clergyman. If Elizabeth is an adorable woman because of her excellent qualities, Mr. Collins is unforgettable because of his absurdities. Indeed, Mr. Collins deserves an honourable place in the gallery of comic characters created by English novelists.

An Oddity, According to Elizabeth
Before Mr. Collins himself appears on the scene in the novel, a letter is received from him by Mr. Bennet. This letter throws considerable light on the character of its writer. In the letter Mr. Collins has expressed his regret over the differences which had existed between his late father and Mr. Bennet; and he further writes that he would like to heal the breach which now exists between himself and the Bennet family. He also says that he would like to make amends to the Bennet family for any injustice that might have been done to it by his late father. And a fact, which he takes pains to emphasize in the letter, is that the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh has appointed him the rector of the parish in which he lives. Different members of the Bennet family react differently to Mr. Collins's letter. The comment of Elizabeth is nearest the truth. Elizabeth thinks that Mr. Collins seems to be an "oddity" and not a sensible man, and further that there is something very pompous in Mr. Collins's style of writing.
His Compliments to the Bennet Family
Then Mr. Collins arrives personally at Longbourn on a visit to the Bennet family. He is a tall, heavy-looking young man of five and twenty. His air is grave and stately; and his manners are very formal. His talk abounds in compliments to the whole Bennet family. He first admires the daughters of the family, and afterwards the house and the furniture. After dinner, he praises the family for the sumptuous and delicious dinner which they have served to him.
A Sycophant
After dinner, Mr. Collins informs the Bennet family that he is extremely lucky to have won the favour of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He grows eloquent in praise of that lady. He says that she is so kind to him that she frequently invites him to dinner at her residence. He also describes Lady Catherine's daughter as a most charming young lady. Indeed, his manner of talking about Lady Catherine and her daughter is such as to show clearly that he is a born flatterer or sycophant. Furthermore, he shows himself to be a very self-satisfied and self-complacent kind of man. Mr. Bennet regards Mr. Collins as an absurd fellow.
His Proposal of Marriage, Rejected by Elizabeth
Mr. Collins now reveals the true purpose of his visit to Longbourn. He says that he is thinking of getting married. Lady Catherine had advised him to get married as soon as possible; as a clergyman he must set an example of marriage to his parish; and marriage, he thinks, would add to his happiness. He wants to choose a wife for himself from amongst the daughters of the Bennet family. This is what he had meant by writing in his letter that he wanted to make amends to the Bennet family in advance for depriving them of their estate and property by inheriting this property at the death of Mr. Bennet. Mr. Collins, now finds all the Bennet sisters to be handsome and amiable; but his choice falls upon the eldest, namely Jane. However, as soon as he learns from Mrs. Bennet that Jane is already expecting to be married another man, Mr. Collins promptly transfers his choice to Elizabeth. Soon after­wards, he proposes marriage to Elizabeth who, however, rejects the proposal, though in a most polite and courteous manner. Mr. Collins's enthusiasm is, however, not damped by this rejection. He says that Elizabeth would surely accept his proposal when he repeats it. However Elizabeth tells him firmly that she cannot accept his proposal under any circumstances. The persistence with which he puts forward his case to Elizabeth is comic. Afterwards Elizabeth describes Mr. Collins to Jane as "a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man".
Married to Charlotte Lucas
Mr. Collins does not show any signs of depression or dejection after having thus been deprived of the hope of marrying either Jane or Elizabeth. By now he has met Miss Charlotte Lucas also; and he now decides to propose marriage to her. Charlotte is so situated that she cannot refuse this offer from a man by marrying whom she can lead a comfortable and prosperous life. And so Mr. Collins gets married to Charlotte.
His Flexibility, Most Absurd and Amusing
The whole account of Mr. Collins's proposals of marriage, and his actual marriage, is a very amusing one. Indeed, this account constitutes one of the most interesting portions of the novel. Mr. Collins's flexibility so far as his choice of girls is concerned is most absurd and most comic. If not Jane, then Elizabeth would do; and, if Elizabeth cannot marry him, he proposes marriage to Charlotte without feeling ruffled in the least. Here, again, we note his complacency, which is one of his chief traits, and which contributes to the comic effect that he produces upon us. It is indeed lucky that Charlotte finds herself quite comfortable and happy as Mr. Collins's wife, because in Elizabeth's opinion no decent girl could be happy as the wife of this man whom Elizabeth holds in contempt. In fact, Elizabeth feels shocked on learning that Charlotte had agreed to marry Mr. Collins; and Elizabeth is, therefore, very surprised indeed when, on visiting Hunsford for a brief stay with Charlotte, she finds Charlotte to be quite satisfied with her life as Mr. Collins's wife.
His Tendency to Offer his Thanks to Everybody
Another comic trait of Mr. Collins is his tendency to offer profuse thanks for whatever courtesy he receives from anybody. After his first visit to Longbourn, he writes a letter of pro fuse thanks to the Bennet family for their hospitable treatment of him. When Elizabeth is about to leave Hunsford after having stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Collins for some time, Mr. Collins offers his profuse thanks to her for her visit.  He is also always at pains to pay compliments to the people with whom he comes into contact.
His Reaction to Lydia's Elopement
On learning of Lydia's elopement with Mr. Wickham, Mr. Collins writes a letter to Mr. Bennet, expressing his grief at the disgrace which Lydia has brought to the Bennet family. "The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this," Mr. Collins writes to Mr. Bennet with regard to Lydia's conduct. Mr. Collins has further written that this false step taken by one of the Bennet sisters would greatly damage the prospects of all the others. Here, of course, we cannot find fault with Mr. Collins. His reaction to Lydia's elopement is what any sensible man's reaction would be.
His Strange Notion of Christian Forgiveness
Mr. Collins writes another letter to Mr. Bennet on hearing that Lydia and Mr. Wickham had, after getting married, been received by the Bennet family quite warmly. Mr. Collins expresses his strong disapproval of this hospitality. He writes that, by having allowed Lydia and her husband to come and stay in his house, Mr. Bennet had provided "an encouragement to vice". Mr. Collins urges Mr. Bennet to forgive Lydia and Mr. Wickham for their misconduct in having runaway, and at the same time strongly advises Mr. Bennet never to receive them as part of his family. On receiving his letter, Mr. Bennet rightly points out to Elizabeth that Mr. Collins has strange ideas of Christian forgiveness. Here is a clergyman urging forgiveness and vindictiveness at the same time. This self-contradictory attitude on the part of Mr. Collins further adds to the comic effect of his portrayal.
The Importance of his Role in the Novel
Mr. Collins's role in the novel is three-fold. First, his plan to marry one of the Bennet girls, his proposal of marriage to Elizabeth and Elizabeth's rejection of it, and his subsequent marriage with Miss Charlotte Lucas constitute a sub-plot in the novel. After Charlotte has settled at Hunsford as Mr. Collins's wife, Elizabeth pays her a visit, and during this visit she happens to meet Mr. Darcy. It is during this visit by her that Mr. Darcy makes his proposal of marriage to Elizabeth who rejects him. Thus Mr. Collins is the means by which this meeting comes about. Secondly, it is Mr. Collins who introduces Lady Catherine de Bourgh to the Bennet family through his letter and his talk before Lady Catherine makes an actual appearance in the novel. Thirdly, Mr. Collins makes a substantial contribu­tion to comedy of the novel. He possesses a number of traits which make him a comic character.
The Comic Traits of Mr. Collins's Character
Mr. Collins is wholly a comic character, even though he is a clergyman who, by virtue of his profession, is entitled to everybody's respect. There are various reasons to make him a comic figure in the novel. First of all, there is his sycophancy. Every one has a right to praise the good qualities of any man or of any woman. But we do not expect anyone either to give praise to an undeserving person or to over-praise a deserving person. Mr. Collins lavishes so much praise upon Lady Catherine and her daughter that the listeners feel amused whereas he speaks gravely, not realizing the extreme to which he is going. He is an accomplished flatterer. He keeps harping upon the excellent qualities of Lady Catherine and her daughter whether they are present or absent, while we know that Lady Catherine and her daughter do not deserve any praise at all. Secondly, there is Mr. Collins's flexibility with regard to his choice of a life-partner. He first proposes marriage to Elizabeth, giving three reasons why he wishes to get married at all. He says that as clergyman he should set an example of marriage to the people of his parish. Then he says that Lady Catherine wants him to get married as soon as possible. And, thirdly, he says that marriage would greatly add to his own happiness. After this comic preface to his proposal, he makes the proposal in such a way as to indicate his full confidence that Elizabeth would jump at his offer to marry her. Of course, he is surprised when Elizabeth rejects his proposal. But then he persists in his proposal on the plea that every girl declines a proposal when it is first made, and that Elizabeth would certainly say "yes" to his proposal when he repeats it or when he makes the proposal for the third time. Mr. Collins's self-complacency is another comic trait. This man is blissfully unaware of his own absurdities. He does not know that he is a flatterer by nature, and that his excessive flattery of Lady Catherine makes other people laugh and jeer at him. Not only does he flatter Lady Catherine excessively, but he has a highly exaggerated view of his own merits both as a man and as a professional clergyman. Elizabeth is right when she describes him as a pompous and conceited man. Finally, the contradiction in his character also makes him a comic figure. The letter which he writes to Mr. Bennet about Lydia's marriage with Mr. Wickham, and about the visit of Mr. and Mrs. Wickham to Longbourn, is very amusing indeed. In this letter Mr. Collins on one hand urges Mr. Bennet to forgive Lydia and, on the other hand, urges Mr. Bennet never to allow Lydia to enter his house after having disgraced her family. As Mr. Bennet says, Mr. Collins has really a strange idea of Christian forgiveness.

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