Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pride & Prejudice, Volume I, chapter 13

Mr. Collins, I presume

It is now Monday, the day after Elizabeth and Jane have returned, and we are told it is November 18th. (In case you've been curious about time's passage . . . well, here you have it. The novel started before Michaelmas (September 29th) and now it's mid-November.)

Mr Bennet reads the first of the letters we see within the text. I am of the opinion that Pride & Prejudice was never written as an epistolary novel, but was Austen's first attempt at a straight narrative in her longer fiction even when it was (in its early drafts) still First Impressions. Perhaps I am incorrect, but I can assure you that if it was ever epistolary, Austen did a superlative job of wiping away her footprints when she switched it over, since it lacks any of the lengthy monologues found in Sense & Sensibility that seemed very much like letters moved into direct speech (such as Colonel Brandon's backstory).

Mr Collins's letter is ridiculous. As Mr Bennet later notes, it's written with a combination of servility and self-importance that tends to indicate that its author must be a fairly silly man. And Mr Bennet delights in the ridiculous, so it stands to reason that he's looking forward to meeting Mr Collins. You'll note that Mr Bennet is quite unperturbed about Collins's pending visit. In fact, he got Collins's letter about a month ago, then didn't answer it for a good two weeks (a fortnight being 14 days, or two weeks). He didn't alert his wife of the need to make a guest room ready or cook a good meal until the day that Mr Collins was due to arrive – this is an example of Mr Bennet being less than diligent about his duties, by the way, as well as demonstrating how unimportant he deems Mr Collins's visit, but I suspect it is also an example of Mr Bennet avoiding listening to his wife go on and on about the visit for weeks prior to its actual occurrence. (One can understand his desire to avoid that, having seen Mrs Bennet in action in prior chapters.)

Mrs Bennet may not be smart, but she certainly is quick to catch Mr Collins's meaning when he says in his correspondence that he is ready to make every possible amends to the Bennet daughters. None of the other Bennets seem to have sussed out what Mr Collins is hinting at here. Have you?

In the novel, Mr Collins is described as tall and heavy. Although Tom Hollander is short and thin, he was absolutely brilliant as Mr Collins in the 2005 movie, as was David Bamber in the 1995 BBC/PBS series. Sadly, I cannot find either one's arrival available online, but here is Tom Hollander commending the excellence of the potatoes – it cuts off before Mrs Bennet can assure him that they have a cook:

Tomorrow: Chapter Fourteen
Back to Chapter Twelve

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