Mr. Collins . . . “was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal.”–Pride and Prejudice, chapter 13
In my mind’s eye, Mr. Collins is the Mr. Collins of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, where he was played by David Bamber. However, Hugh Thomson’s Mr. Collins, in the illustrations of the “Peacock” Pride and Prejudice, better fits Austen’s description.
Collins is a comic character; we are meant to laugh at his foolishness, as Mr. Bennet and Elizabeth do. He is not meant to represent all clergymen. Jane Austen also gave us good, honorable clergymen as three of her heroes: Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney, and Edward Ferrars. Mr. Elton of Emma is another comic clergyman, like Mr. Collins. Jane Austen knew many clergymen, including her father, brothers, and other relatives, so she no doubt saw the strengths and weaknesses of many of them. Her characters are always complex and imperfect, and her clergymen are no exception.
So, let’s enjoy together some views of Mr. Collins, from illustrator Hugh Thomson of the nineteenth century.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 30. “To work in this garden was one of his most respectable pleasures; and Elizabeth admired the command of countenance with which Charlotte talked of the healthfulness of the exercise, and owned she encouraged it as much as possible.” Charlotte, of course, is happy to be free of Mr. Collins’s company for some hours each day.
With all of his self-importance and pomposity, Mr. Collins at least appears to do his work as a clergyman adequately. His unkindness and self-righteousness, though, mean that he is not setting a good example for the people of his parish.
What do you think is Mr. Collins’s worst fault, as a man or as a clergyman? Do you see any good characteristics? Which scene with Mr. Collins is funniest? Do you think Austen meant to criticize any aspect of the clergy through the character of Mr. Collins?
Earlier Posts with Illustrations from the Peacock Pride and Prejudice