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The thing that makes Mr. Collins such a comic figure in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is the fact that he takes himself so seriously. When he writes a formal letter to the Bennets about his intention to visit, we see the language as stilted and overly formal; he sees it as impressive. This is one sentence of the pretentious letter:
My mind, however, is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England.
When his wife wonders if Collins might be a "sensible man," Mr. Bennet suggests Collins demonstrates a "mixture of servility and self-importance" which he hopes will be entertaining.
Mr. Bennet's expectations were fully answered. His cousin was as absurd as he had hoped....
When Collins arrives and has his first meal with the Bennets, he is the same in person as he is in his letter. Austen says when he talks about his benefactor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, "the subject elevated him to more than usual solemnity of manner." Even at his best and most relaxed, Collins is overly serious and solemn.
Collins is the next in line to inherit the Bennets' estate, so he is here to marry one of the Bennets--whichever, it does not matter--as a kind of "atonement" for his future inheritance. When he finally chooses Elizabeth and proposes, his proposal is a list of all the reasons why it will benefit him to be married--and each one of them is an implied or direct insult to his prospective bride. They include, in part, the following:
- He is "convinced that it will add very greatly to [his] happiness
- Lady Catherine de Bourgh suggested it and of course must approve of his choice
- He hopes marrying him will help the other Bennet girls when their father dies
- He promises never to hold her lack of a dowry against her.
It is difficult to take Collins seriously with this outrageous reasoning, but he is most serious. And he is, of course, prepared for Elizabeth to say no, because he understands that a lady always says no when she means yes. Really, he is almost ridiculous.
Another element which makes Collins a comical figure is his constant and elaborate mention of his benefactress, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Everything is measured by her, even furniture.
Collins is also a social failure, "awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it." He is a comical figure in every way.
Once Collins leaves and marries Charlotte, it is more difficult to make fun of his pomposity, probably because we are too busy feeling sorry for the poor girl who had to settle for Mr. Collins.
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