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Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen
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What reasons does Mr. Collins give in order to marry Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice?

The three primary reasons Mr. Collins gives for wanting to marry Elizabeth are that he believes a clergyman should be married, that he thinks marriage will bring him happiness, and third, that it is the wish of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. None of these reasons have anything to do with Elizabeth.

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Mr. Collins provides several reasons that explain his decision to propose to Elizabeth:

  1. He is a clergyman, and he believes that clergyman should be married.
  2. He believes marriage will bring him happiness.
  3. His patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has told him to marry.
  4. He is the heir to Longbourn, the Bennets’ estate and, as such, hopes to ensure at least one Bennet daughter may still live there.
  5. He is, allegedly, passionately in love with Elizabeth.

Beyond his words, however, one can read into a more central motivation: duty. Mr. Collins feels that it is his duty as a clergyman, a genteel man, the heir to Longbourn, and the social inferior of Lady Catherine to pursue marriage. Although his proposal is certainly unromantic and in many ways laughable, it does not come from a malicious or negative thought process. Indeed, considering both his position and the position of the Bennet women, his proposal is the decent thing to do. Jane, as the oldest and prettiest sister, is his initial choice, but in light of her apparent connection with Bingley, he shifts his attention to the most logical second choice: Elizabeth.

However, Elizabeth, who was raised to be spirited and independent by her father, cannot bring herself to agree to a marriage based purely on duty. Although Mrs. Bennet insists that Elizabeth should match Mr. Collins’s dutifulness and marry him for the sake of her sisters, she declines his proposal because she knows that there is no love between them. By contrast, Charlotte Lucas agrees to marry Mr. Collins because she is no longer in a position to consider romantic fulfillment as a priority. In a sense, Charlotte has a duty to both her family and herself to marry. At twenty-seven, she is at risk of becoming a burden on her family and of compromising the comforts of her own future, enabling her to be a better match for the similarly unromantic and dutiful Collins.

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Mr. Collins begins in a very orderly way with three primary reasons he is asking Elizabeth to marry him. First, he believes a clergyman should be married. Second, he believes it will bring him happiness. Third, and the reason he emphasizes most strongly, is that this is the wish of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He thinks this will be an important selling point with Elizabeth, especially as Lady Catherine has promised to visit the woman he marries, a great honor in Mr. Collins's eyes. None of these reasons have to do with Elizabeth.

Mr. Collins then adds two more reasons to these three. He reminds Elizabeth that he is next in line to inherit her father's property. This is an event that is likely to throw Mrs. Bennet and her daughters into poverty if the daughters are not married. Mr. Collins believes he will lessen the blow of the father's death if he marries one of the daughters, as at least this way one will be able to remain at Hunsford.

Finally, Mr. Collins states that his fifth reason is the "violence of ... [his] affection" for Elizabeth, a rationale we can hardly take seriously after all else he has said. He adds that he is willing to take Elizabeth on with no dowry.

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In chapter 1:14, Mr. Collins provides a list of three reasons for marrying Elizabeth.

Mr. Collins does not list the reasons in the most romantic way, and they are not the most romantic reasons.

Reason 1: A clergyman should be married.  This sets an example for the men in the parish to marry.

“I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish” (63).

Marriage is an honorable endeavor, of course.  Since Mr. Collins wants to be a role model for the parish, he thinks he should be married.  For him not to be married would be strange or improper.

Reason 2:  Marriage will make him happier.

Mr. Collins seems to think that marriage is a good idea because he is “convinced that it will add very greatly” to his happiness (p. 63).  Notice that he gives this reason second, almost like it is an afterthought.  He might be happier if married, but it is not his first motivation.

Reason 3: He was told he had to marry.

Apparently Lady Catherine, the noble woman, he calls his “patroness” reminded him that he needed to get married quickly.

A clergyman like you must marry.  Choose properly, choose a gentlewoman, for my sake and for your own; let her be an active, useful sort of person, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way. (p. 63-64)

I suppose this is the closest thing to a compliment he said.  It does make Elizabeth seem like quite a catch!  He is at least implying that she is a good wife.  What woman wouldn’t want to be called useful!

Due to the way property was passed down, when Mr. Bennet died the land would go to his cousin.

Mr. Collins ... when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases (ch 8, p. 39).

Sadly, this is enough reason for the family to encourage Elizabeth to marry Mr. Collins to keep the land in the family.  It also depersonalizes the decision, at least as far as they are concerned.  He really must marry one of the Bennet girls.  It puts all of them in an extremely difficult position.


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