Mr. Collins’ blunder

He was interrupted by a summons to dinner; and the girls smiled on each other. They were not the only objects of Mr. Collins’s admiration. The hall, the dining-room, and all its furniture, were examined and praised; and his commendation of everything would have touched Mrs. Bennet’s heart, but for the mortifying supposition of his viewing it all as his own future property. The dinner too in its turn was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cooking was owing. But he was set right there by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologise for about a quarter of an hour.

Listening to Pride and Prejudice, I was intrigued by this little misstep by Mr. Collins, who apparently had thought that one of the Bennet girls had cooked the evening dinner. Mrs. Bennet, of course, is shocked at the idea. Mr. Bennet after all has an income of £2000 a year from the estate and they have servants and a cook. The Bennets have few savings (and thus he can’t afford a proper dowry), but they are comfortable.

This makes me wonder why Mr. Collins should make such a blunder, but there may be a clue in the following description of him:

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his right as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.

Having now a good house and a very sufficient income, he intended to marry; and in seeking a reconciliation with the Longbourn family he had a wife in view, as he meant to choose one of the daughters, if he found them as handsome and amiable as they were represented by common report. This was his plan of amends—of atonement—for inheriting their father’s estate; and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part.

I guess it’s possible that his knowledge of the world is bounded on one end by his own upbringing (his illiterate and miserly father), and at the other by Rosings Park and the beneficence of Lady Catherine. He may have no idea of the rest of the world and it makes me wonder what impression he had of Longbourn before his visit and how much avarice played into his character. I would have never have thought of this aspect of Mr. Collins had I not read Karen Aminadra’s Charlotte, Pride and Prejudice Continues. It is very interesting now to view Austen’s characters and appreciate the little tidbits she tosses out that help make even someone like Mr. Collins a sympathetic character.

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