William Collins is a main-supporting character in Pride and Prejudice. He is married to Charlotte Lucas, the daughter of Sir William and Lady Lucas of Lucas Lodge in Hertfordshire. He is a distant cousin of Mr. Bennet's and the heir presumptive of the Bennet family home, Longbourn. He is twenty-five years old at the beginning of the novel.
Mr. Collins became a clergyman and thus dedicated to the spreading of peace. He accepted the patronage of Lady Catherine, the daughter of an earl and an extremely wealthy woman. Lady Catherine established him in a parish.
Offering the "olive branch"
- "DEAR SIR, The disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father, always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him, I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one, with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance."
- —Mr. Collins in a letter to Mr. Bennet
Mr. Collins's late father had a very nasty disagreement and rivalry with Mr. Bennet, and Collins pronounced this matter to give him "much uneasiness". After his father's death, he wrote to Mr. Bennet asking to patch things up.
In his letter to Mr. Bennet, he dramatically calls the correspondence, "an olive branch", which he says that he feels that Mr. Bennet should be in no way forced to accept. This is also where he first mentions his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Entails in Austen’s time always passed along an entirely male line, which means that none of the Bennet sisters or their children can inherit Longbourn. Mr. Collins is considered heir presumptive only because he could be displaced by the birth of a legitimate son to Mr. Bennet, either by his current wife or by a future wife should he be widowed and remarry; he could not be displaced as heir by the son of a Bennet daughter. His desire to marry one of his cousins may have been prompted by scruples or empathy, but he may have also considered that failing to do so might set his neighbours against him once he did inherit.
Given that the property is entailed it might be thought that Mr. Collins’s surname should be Bennet, but it was not unusual for men at the time to adopt the surname of a benefactor.
Rejection and marriage
- "I am not now to learn that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long."
- —Mr. Collins to Elizabeth Bennet after her first rejection.
Mr. Collins also wished to find a wife among the Bennet sisters, namely Jane at first. After being deterred from the engagement by Mrs. Bennet, she pointed him in the direction of Elizabeth, and Mr. Collins fancies himself attracted to her.
After offering her marriage, she refused twice. Later, Mr. Collins became engaged to Charlotte Lucas, much to Elizabeth's chagrin. They established themselves at Hunsford Parsonage, and lived a short distance away from Rosings Park, the family manor of the de Bourghs.
Personality and traits
Mr. Collins is best described by Elizabeth, as "conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly". Mr Collins is man of the church, yet he seems more concerned with his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, than God. Mr. Collins is ridiculous and insensible. The narrator describes him as "a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility." He tends to be very impressed with himself and his own ideas and rather obtuse or inconsiderate of the feelings of others, with the exception of his patroness Lady Catherine de Bourgh of course. To most people of rank or title he is a fawning toady, to speak bluntly, behaving been taught that connections are everything in his childhood.
He is obviously a social climber, easily impressed by a title. This leads him to be easily manipulated by Lady Catherine. He also has the tendencies of a name-dropper, mentioning Lady Catherine and his ties to her at any opportunity. He is obviously quite self-absorbed, and is often viewed as bothersome to others. Jane Austen weaves a humorous and cringe-worthy character in Mr. Collins. His marriage is used to contrast against the marriages of Darcy and Elizabeth and Bingley and Jane, which were done for love.
Mr. Collins is an important character in the story. He represents the eventual loss of Longbourn for the Bennet family, and the need for the Bennet sisters to marry as high up as they can, so they will be able to care for their unmarried sisters and widowed mother. Although made to look ridiculous, his position in life is anything but that. Mr Collins always ends up humiliating himself when trying to do what society expects him to do.
- "When I do myself the honor of speaking to you next on this subject I shall hope to receive a more favorable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character."
- —Mr. Collins to Miss Elizabeth Bennet in order to encourage assent and to encourage himself.[src]
- "I am by no means of opinion, I assure you, that a ball of this kind, given by a young man of character, to respectable people, can have any evil tendency; and I am so far from objecting to dancing myself that I shall hope to be honored with the hands of all my fair cousins in the course of the evening, and I take this opportunity of soliciting yours, Miss Elizabeth, for the two first dances especially."
- —Mr. Collins to the Bennet sisters at the Netherfield ball
Notes and references
- Pride and Prejudice, Vol. I, Ch. 13 (pp. 59—60; First Folio ed. reprint 1996)
- Pride and Prejudice Vol. I, Ch. 19 (pp. 94—95; First Folio Society ed.; 1996 reprint)
- P & P, Vol. I, Ch. 17 (pg. 79; First Folio Society ed. 1996 reprint)