The Specter of Mr. Collins

See the source imageThis passage from Pride and Prejudice (chapter 26) talks about how Elizabeth’s relationship with Charlotte changed after Charlotte married Mr. Collins. It was the inspiration for a “missing scene” I wrote a few years ago for another blog. When I ran across it again today, it made me chuckle, so I decided to share it with you here. Hope you enjoy it!

The wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door, and every body had as much to say or to hear on the subject as usual. Elizabeth soon heard from her friend; and their correspondence was as regular and frequent as it had ever been; that is should be equally unreserved was impossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feeling that all the comfort of intimacy was over, and, though determined not to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of what had been, rather than what was.



When Elizabeth had said goodbye to the former Miss Lucas at the church door, it had been with a heavy heart. The previous years of unreserved friendship, of easy intimacy, were over. The fact that one was now married and the other not would have formed somewhat of a barrier in any case. But the manner of Charlotte’s marrying – whom she had accepted and why – was an obstacle Elizabeth feared could never be overcome. Henceforth, the specter of Mr. Collins would always divide them.

Nevertheless, out of respect for what had been, she was determined to preserve at least a remnant of their past friendship. Charlotte had asked her to visit Hunsford in March, and Elizabeth had agreed, though she foresaw little pleasure in the scheme. In the meantime, there would be letters exchanged.

Elizabeth anticipated the first missive from Kent with a sort of morbid curiosity. Not that she hoped her friend would be unhappy. Certainly not! It was simply impossible for her to imagine the situation as being otherwise, to envision Charlotte’s state of mind without her own feelings creeping in. “You were right, my dear Lizzy!” she would surely say. “I have made the biggest mistake of my life in marrying Mr. Collins, and it is one from which I fear I will never recover. Why, oh, why did I not listen to your advice?”

But instead, Charlotte wrote the following:

 

My dearest friend,

 I know you will have been wondering how we are getting on here in Kent. So I will jot down a few lines for you, while I have a half-hour’s leisure, to assure you that Mr. Collins and I are very well. We experienced no difficulty with our travel from Hertfordshire after the wedding, arriving in good time. And my impressions upon first setting eyes on Hunsford were most agreeable as well.

 The parsonage, while not grand by any means, is as neat and tidy as any reasonable person could well wish for. I already feel quite at home and have been allowed to claim a pretty little parlor at the back of the house for my own particular use. I find the furnishings throughout exactly suited for a clergyman’s family. This should come as no surprise since Lady Catherine has done it all according to her own discriminating taste and judgment, as she informed me herself when she condescended to visit me the very day after my arrival. Was not that considerate? I anticipate that she will be just as generous with these civil attentions as my husband has always given her the credit of.

 As for more about our distinguished neighbor, her daughter, and the splendors of Rosings Park, I must defer to another occasion the detailed descriptions Mr. Collins has encouraged me to make to you. I simply have not time or room on the page to do them justice now. In any case, you will see all these things for yourself when you come in March. For the present, be satisfied to know that everything here – house, furniture, gardens, neighborhood, etc. – is to my liking, and I am well satisfied with my situation.

 Please write soon, Lizzy. I long to hear all the news from Meryton – all your little comings, goings, and doings – and none of my own family has yet proved to be a very satisfactory correspondent.

 With loving regards from Hunsford,

Charlotte Collins

 P.S. – Mr. Collins sends his greetings to you and to your family as well. He asks that you would be so kind as to apologize to your father on his behalf, for his not having written more promptly himself. This is a circumstance he promises to remedy very soon, at which time he will beg Mr. Bennet’s pardon in proper form.

 

Oh, my. Well satisfied. It was precisely what she should have expected to hear from her friend – all cheerful practicality and no complaints. Elizabeth could accept that much. She could even respect such a statement, whereas she would never have believed a claim of Charlotte’s being deliriously happy with Mr. Collins. Impossible! Very well. Elizabeth supposed she must be satisfied too. She could not quite understand it, but she owed it to Charlotte to be glad for her, to be glad she could be content with the life she had chosen for herself. There was clearly nothing else to be done.

Well, there was one more thing. Elizabeth drew two sheets of paper from the desk and took up her pen to write an answer.

 

My dear Charlotte,

Thank you for your letter. I was so pleased to hear that you are well, and that you find everything at Hunsford so consistent with your taste and expectations. Here at Longbourn, we continue on much as you left us…



Is this the way you imagine these events playing out?

 

 

 

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About Shannon Winslow

author of historical fiction in the tradition of Jane Austen
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11 Responses to The Specter of Mr. Collins

  1. Joan Person Duff says:

    This, indeed, follows the expected reaction of Charlotte to her marriage – a union based not on love but on an agreement to establish a cohabitation based on support and mutual social advantage. Charlotte had no husband anywhere on the horizon and, seeing a chance to escape the life of a spinster daughter, quickly took advantage of the suddenly available Mr.Collins. Elizabeth cannot imagine any happiness in marriage without love – has vowed to only to wed for love and must fight the distaste she feels when she imagines herself in Charlotte’s position.

  2. Carolyn says:

    At the time Charlotte’s type of marriage was not that unusual, so it must be that Elizabeth just found the man distasteful and not to get liking. And she had shared this information with Charlotte which made the whole thing kind of embarrassing. But Charlotte being the older and wiser if the two, saw no point in ending a friendship over it. Elizabeth still had a lot of growing up to do at this point. She would never have ended up with Darcy had she not conquered some of her own faults.

    • I think you’re right, Carolyn; Elizabeth had some maturing to do. I’ve always been a little shocked by what it says of the relationship in P&P, that “all the comfort of intimacy was over” once Charlotte was married. Seems an extreme reaction, especially since, as you say, this type of marriage was not unusual. Elizabeth’s visit to Hunsford offered an opportunity for her get a better perspectiv, to grow up a little, and restore the relationship.

  3. Beatrice says:

    I love the postscript: “P.S. – Mr. Collins sends his greetings to you and to your family as well. He asks that you would be so kind as to apologize to your father on his behalf, for his not having written more promptly himself. This is a circumstance he promises to remedy very soon, at which time he will beg Mr. Bennet’s pardon in proper form.”
    And I cannot but notice there is no mention of Mr Collins in this line listing all the things she likes about her married life. “For the present, be satisfied to know that everything here – house, furniture, gardens, neighborhood, etc. – is to my liking, and I am well satisfied with my situation.”
    Subtle but hilarious!

    • Glad you caught the sublties, Beatrice! I thought that Charlotte would be diplomatic enough to gloss over the tiny detail of Mr. Collins himself coming with the bargain she’d made. Teehee!

  4. As noted above in the comments, Charlotte does not list her husband in the sentence about all which satisfies her in her new situation. I don’t have the book handy and must gulp my tea and dash out the door so as to not be late for Morning Prayer & Holy Communion with our rector. But I remember from the 1995 movie how Charlotte remarks that she and Mr. Collins spend very few minutes a day together, thanks to Charlotte’s management of his schedule: gardening outside, visits to Lady Catherine and the parish, working on his sermons in his study, etc. I remember the satisfied but slightly abashed look on Charlotte’s face as she informed Lizzy of their situation. So subtle! 🙂

    Wishing you a blessed day, Shannon!
    Susanne 🙂

    • Some of what you mentioned is from the movie, not the book (I reviewed chapter 28), but it’s in the same spirit. Elizabeth was amazed at Charlotte’s cheerfulness with such a husband, noticed that Charlotte “wisely did not hear” when he did/said something embarassing, and admitted to E that she encouraged the healthy exercise of gardening as much as possible. E’s impression of her friend’s situation made me laugh again:

      When Mr. Collins could be forgotten, there was really a great air of comfort throughout, and by Charlotte’s evident enjoyment of it, Elizabeth supposed he must be often forgotten. 😀

  5. Michelle H says:

    It’s been too long since I’ve read P&P, having nearly burned myself out on it gosh, maybe 8-10 years ago? Eeek. But, the line that said ‘Elizabeth could never address her without feeling that the comfort of all intimacy was over’ I felt was made out of the embarrassment over the reaction she had when Charlotte told her of her betrothal. I agree with Carolyn about Lizzy’s maturity. But in addition, since Charlotte was now married to the heir of Longbourne, and Charlotte being the eventual sharer of that situation, and traditionally obedient kind of wife she would surely end up being, anything Elizabeth shared with her in a letter would naturally be shared with Mr. Collins as news from home. So no intimacy could be kept in confidence. I mean how could Elizabeth preface a paragraph into each letter with ‘please don’t share this with Mr. Collins….’

    And I always wondered how Lady Catherine got wind of Darcy’s supposed betrothal to Elizabeth. I can’t help but think Charlotte shared her ideas of Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth when they were both in Hunsford? And of course Mr Collins went right to Lady Catherine to blab out the dire news. That’s one loose end I wish Austen would have tied up. It worked well into the plot of course. But I always wanted someone to blame for the horrendous scene Lady C inflicted upon Lizzy.

    • Excellent theory, Michelle, and that might be exactly what JA meant by that line! The way I picture Charlotte, though, I believe she would have been very judicious about what she told her husband and what she did not. She would want to appear to be a proper, submissive wife, but in actuality she (as the wiser and more sensible of the two) knew she needed to be the one driving the bus. For her husband’s own sake, she would skillfully guide him while all the time letting him think he was in charge! Haha!

      • Michelle H says:

        Agreed Shannon. P&P doesn’t tell us, but I just now was wondering how in the world did Charlotte and Lizzy spend their time together, during those many weeks of her visit? There were only so many walks Elizabeth could get away with. 😀 It would seem the usual subjects would have been long exhausted by the end of the first week!

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