Mr. Collins, Country Clergyman

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.

Collins Olive Branch
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 13. Mr. Collins’s father was at odds with Mr. Bennet’s father. Collins feared it might “seem disrespectful to his [father’s] memory” for him to reconcile with the Bennets. However, he decides that as a clergyman, it is right and “highly commendable” for him to offer an “olive-branch” of peace to the Bennets.
Collins and Novels
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 14. Mr. Collins refuses to read a novel to the family, protesting “that he never read novels.”  Many people of his day, not just clergymen, looked down on novels. They thought novels taught bad morality and were a waste of time. Jane Austen makes fun of such people in Northanger Abbey. Collins reads Fordyce’s Sermons instead, a book teaching young ladies how to behave properly. However, Lydia interrupts him and he stops reading. She, of course, is the member of the family who most needed to hear the lessons Mr. Collins was reading.
Collins capital
Pride and Prejudice chapter 15. One of Hugh Thomson’s delightful capital letters that begin each chapter. Mr. Collins has a swelled head, going up like a balloon. “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.”
Collins Proposes to Elizabeth
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 19. Mr. Collins intends to marry one of the Bennet girls, so that Longbourn will stay in their family. His hilarious proposal begins with all his reasons for marrying: as a good example to his parish, because it will make him happy, and because Lady Catherine recommended it. “And now nothing remains for me but to assure you in the most animated language of the violence of my affection.” Elizabeth, of course, does not return his imagined “affection.” Mr. Collins finds her refusal very difficult to believe!
Collins and Charlotte with Lucases kneeling
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 22. However, Mr. Collins soon consoles himself by proposing to Charlotte Lucas. She is ready to accept him so she will have a stable home and income. Here they ask Charlotte’s parents for their blessing. “Sir William and Lady Lucas were speedily applied to for their consent; and it was bestowed with a most joyful alacrity.”
Collins and Lady C capital
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 29. Elizabeth goes to visit the Collinses in their home in Hunsford. Thomson shows Collins deifying his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Collins gardening capital
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.

Collins Parting Obeisance
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 37. When Mr. Darcy and Colonel Brandon leave Rosings, Collins sees them off with “his parting obeisance,” treating them with great deference as nephews of Lady Catherine.
Collins with Lady C and Anne
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 48. Mr. Collins self-righteously tells Lady Catherine and her daughter that Lydia ran away with Wickham. Collins writes, “They agree with me in apprehending that this false step in one daughter will be injurious to the fortunes of all the others; for who, as Lady Catherine herself condescendingly says, will connect themselves with such a family?” Ironically, Lady Catherine herself ends up connected with the family, when her nephew marries Elizabeth!

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

Peacock Pride and Prejudice

Covering Screens

Box Pews in Church

Dancing, and the Militia

Next week we’ll look at travel in Austen’s England.

Note: Hugh Thomson’s illustrations are in the public domain.

5 thoughts on “Mr. Collins, Country Clergyman

  1. If I recall, Brenda, Malcolm Rennie in the 1980s film production of Pride and Prejudice was that tall, bumbling, awful, funny but not funny Mr. Collins. Subsequent films made him too short but just as obsequious and irrelevant. I love Hugh Thompson’s illustrations and have almost all of them in my JA novels. They are magical, but decidedly set in the late 19th century. This was a lovely article. Thank you, Vic


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