“The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this.  And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose, as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this...

“The death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this.  And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose, as my dear Charlotte informs me, that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter, has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence, though, at the same time, for the consolation of yourself and Mrs. Bennet, I am inclined to think that her own disposition must be naturally bad, or she could not be guilty of such an enormity, at so early an age . . . .  Let me advise you then, my dear Sir, to console yourself as much as possible, to throw off your unworthy child from your affection for ever, and leave her to reap the fruits of her own heinous offence" (192-93).

These lines appear in a letter written by Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennet following Lydia’s “elopement” with Wickham (but before they are married).  These lines reveal some unappealing aspects of Collins’s character, but they also contain some conventional wisdom of the day that many of Bennet’s neighbors would probably have endorsed.  What do these lines reveal about Austen’s use of satire in the novel?  Is Collins a figure only to be ridiculed, or is his view of morality important to the workings of the novel?

Expert Answers
M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Collins, a far cousin of the Bennett sisters is, by Regency laws, the heir of the Bennett estate. As such, he has an entitlement as far as the property goes and, being that he is a man in a male-dominated society, he may choose to have a responsibility toward the Bennett family. However, Mr. Collins is also a vicar who takes his job to a level of exaggerated seriousness. This is mainly the reason why he would utter such words stating that death would be more becoming than a scandal to the Bennett family.

Aside from this, Mr. Collins exerts no other influence in the novel, neither moral nor climactic, other than being a literal obstacle to the Bennetts: he is quite annoying, a sycophant of his patroness, Lady Catherine, talks too much, cannot dance, and has an unattractive physique.  

He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. ...This gallantry was not much to the taste of some of his hearers

Austen's use of satire is evident in that it is Mr. Collins, out of all the characters, who would choose to say such strong words about Lydia's elopement to none other than Mrs. Bennet herself. These words match his exaggerated personality behaviors and illustrate the double-standards in his character: A vicar is supposed to teach to forgive and to love. He, on the other side, is taking the extreme opposite road: he wishes that Lydia were dead. This completely nulls any view on morality coming from Mr. Collins. In a way, Austen shatters the religiousness and morality in Mr. Collins by awarding his less than competent traits in a weak and flatly annoying character. 

Now, let's go back to Lydia's elopement. It is understandable that the shame caused by Lydia's lack of dignity and self-respect is viewed by the family as a tragedy; after all, Lydia is not only putting her reputation at risk, but also the reputation of her sisters and the good name of her family. A scandal of this nature would have affected the rest of the household who would have been seen by others as a chaotic, weak family. 

In chapter 46 Elizabeth confesses to Darcy about what Lydia does, and the reactions are quite telling: 

[Elizabeth] was wild to be at home—to hear, to see, to be upon the spot to share with Jane in the cares that must now fall wholly upon her, in a family so deranged, a father absent, a mother incapable of exertion, and requiring constant attendance...

This goes to show that Collins, Elizabeth, Jane, the Bennett parents, Darcy and even Mr. Bingley would have all been affected by the elopement, had Darcy not fixed the situation. In all, Lydia's acts were shocking and dangerous for her time period. They were equally shameful and socially unacceptable. While Collins is not directly moralizing the Bennetts, he is indeed voicing the opinions of what other neighbors would have also said about Lydia.  

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Pride and Prejudice

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