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The proposal of Mr. Collins to Elizabeth comes in Chapter 19 of the novel and is a typical example of his stupidity and lack of imagination. He explains it is his religious duty as a vicar to marry and above all that Lady Catherine de Burgh has recommended that he do so. A marriage to Elizabeth would help heal the breach between their families and also provide for Elizabeth's mother and sisters in the event of her father's death. Generously (note the irony here) he is willing to ignore Elizabeth's lack of money that she can bring to a marriage. Despite Elizabeth's refusals, Mr. Collins insists on believing that this is an example of her modesty or flirtatiousness, in keeping with the behaviour of "elegant females".
Humour abounds in this proposal. The speech of Mr. Collins is stilted, pompous and focused on an overbearing egotism. His wordy method of discourse leads him to structure his proposal as if it were a business plan ("firstly... secondly... thirdly...") which is hardly suitable for a declaration of love. Throughout his proposal he is so sure of his many merits and virtues that he has not considered Elizabeth's feelings or the possibility that she might refuse him. There is a note of tremendous irony when he says: "But before I am run away with my feelings on this subject..." There is no character more unlikely to run away with their feelings in the novel! His reference to Elizabeth's low expectations and financial situation is indelicate at best and is perfectly in keeping with his arrogance and belief in his own self worth.
However, often with Austen, humour masks or accompanies serious social realities, and these are again unsympathetically made very clear by Mr. Collins:
...and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made to you.
Thus the economic realities of wedlock appear in their most unattractive light, and Lizzie is forced to confront the reality that by denying Mr. Collins and holding out for a marriage of love, she may never marry at all. This foreshadows Charlotte's acceptance of Mr. Collins for security and a position.
Collins proposes to Elizabeth on Wednesday November 27th at her own house (Ch.19). Collins is a cousin of Mr.Bennet who will inherit Mr.Bennet's estate after his death. This is why he is so arrogant and confident that Elizabeth will not reject his proposal. Collins takes Elizabeth for granted and impresses upon her that he is actually doing her a great favour by marrying her and tries to exploit her financial distress to his advantage. He does not care to find out leave alone respect her feelings with regard to marrying him.
He is completely unromantic. His arrogance prevents him from praising her beauty or her intelligence or flattering her before seeking her consent. Collins gives three general reasons why he wants to marry without specifying why he wants to marry Elizabeth in particular.
When he is straightaway rejected by Elizabeth, he thinks that she is only acting coy. Collins assumes wrongly that Elizabeth is only pretending that she does not like him and he tells Elizabeth,
"however your natural delicacy may lead you to dissemble"
Its a classic example of a situation of comical dramatic irony: the completely unromantic lout that Collins is he thinks that Elizabeth is pretending to be coy and hard to get!
A little later, after he has formally proposed to her and has been firmly rejected by Elizabeth he replies to her arrogantly and complacently in the following words:
``I am not now to learn,'' repliedMr.Collins with a formal wave of the hand, ``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.''
Once again, Collins assumes that Elizabeth is really attracted to him and wants to get married to him but that she is only playing hard to get and teasing him in the conventional manner of all young women.
However, Elizabeth firmly rejects him saying that she is not the conventional young lady who likes to be proposed to twice and that her rejection of him is final:
``your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal.
Even then Collins doesn't give up and remarks that when he next proposes to her she will accept him:
``When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this subject I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me;
To which Elizabet exasperatedly replies:
Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.''
Finally the truth of the matter sinks into the thick headed Collins and he quits the place in deep embarrassment.
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