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    Why We Should (gasp) Envy Mr. Collins

    The awkward vicar of Pride and Prejudice has something to teach us about joy and contentment.

    By Joy Clarkson

    March 21, 2022
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    • Cecil Bohanon

      Interesting. A good and solid case for "ignorance is bliss." Collins is a fool but he doesn't know it, so it doesn't matter. He really does no harm to anyone, give Charlotte a good life and Lady deBourg a constant toady, and I bet fulfills his duties in baptizing, marrying and burying his parishioners. There are worse fates

    • Karen wood

      Thisis brilliant, thank you! Altho i am visually impaired i,m going to try to read pandp agaagain , the only hane austen i lije!

    • Alan Brunstrom

      Insightful and delightfully put. Even Jane would laugh and agree.

    • Christie

      I must agree with earlier comments by Laura, Victoria, Lois, and Madeline about how to interpret Mr. Collins. "Self-satisfied" is indeed a more accurate descriptor than "content" or "happy," for all of the reasons that they and other commenters have discussed. I also read the transcript of the podcast with Joy Clarkson, and I agree with her remarks about Mr. Bennet not being a good father. I think that Jane Austen is trying to teach her readers that achieving a true happiness includes reckoning with our faults, and also striving to change, as both Elizabeth and Darcy do over the course of the novel. This is where someone like Mr. Bennet fails. He knows the better course of action, but does not follow it, and it has disastrous consequences for his family. Insofar as the critique is of the cinematic depictions of Mr. Collins, I think that Joy Clarkson has a good point. But Jane Austen makes it clear that her Mr. Collins should not be our role model of happiness.

    • Madeline Osigian

      I love this post! Mr. Collins’s worst quality, which even tops his proposal to Elizabeth, has got to be when he comes back to Longbourn to “commiserate” with the Bennets and is really more just rubbing it in. As a vicar and their cousin, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for him to reach out, but the way he does is simply despicable. He’s gloating over his triumph at avoiding further family connection with them.

    • Donna Klekner

      Thank you. I am seeing Mr. Collins in a different light.

    • Lois Thiessen

      I care to differ regarding Mr Collins' 'satisfaction.' He has allowed himself to be an extension of Lady Katherine, to totally odious and unhappy person. His constant reference to this Lady increases adds to the silliness of his person. His arrogance, I believe, prevented him from finding success in the Bennett household. If Mr Collins had truly wanted to be of help to the Bennett family, he would have been wise to seek out the daughter closer to his abilities - Mary. She was not the most beautiful, but he would have found a kindred spirit. The truly content person is Charlotte. She accepts her fate, and chooses to live in harmony with the man who rather mirrors her father (as he is wont to boast of the minutia in the Court of St James). Charlotte has become accustomed to this blathering. Charlotte is content, as she expresses to Elizabeth. This is at cost to herself, but she is content to do so. As to Jane Austen's dislike of the clergy, she was raised in the home of clergyman, and at least one of her brothers joined the clergy. She loves to make sport of people in all levels of society, and the clergy are part of society. I may be rather hard on poor Mr Collins, but I recognize the character, and have little to no sympathy for him.

    • Kathryn

      This is a sweet , idealistic analysis of a man much infatuated with himself and is indeed not content, but rather prideful at having found himself so situated in life. His value is very much wound up in being a successful and well known and well attached minister. He is not happy and content until he is recognized—-he is burdened with pleasing people to find contentment in himself. He has no self awareness—which leads to poor, shallow relationships and should question if he is effective in ministry. He doesn’t change or grow or indeed live a life of discipleship as a servant leader. If this is contentment then Mr. Collins was contented to stay as he was and not mature and grow in his character. We find him annoying because he is so prideful and is not aware of it.

    • Laura

      So yes, this is a reflection on the movie versions of P & P rather than Austen's book but I would say, "well done!" in bringing me back to those very enjoyable series and challenging my disdain for the Collins' character- though I am not yet convinced. I think I would use the descriptor "self-satisfied" rather than just "satisfied". Thank you, Joy-

    • A Gilbert

      I throughly enjoyed this article! I have loved hating Mr. Collins for many a year, and it’s refreshing to have a new perspective on this infamous character of Jane Austen. And the contrast of Mr. Wickham and himself, nothing I’ve ever thought of before! I do indeed, believe that Mr. Collins has had the last laugh!

    • Victoria Kincaid

      Boy is this ever a misreading of Pride and Prejudice! For one thing it relies heavily on things that don't appear in the book: the line about boiled potatoes is from the 2005 version and the line about shelves in the closet is from the 1995 version. So those aren't indicative of Austen's version of Collins. In the novel, the narrator calls Collins stupid several times and says he's selfish and has "mean understanding." We have no reason to disbelieve the narrator. He's a braggart -- that's why he talks about Lady C's windows and chimney piece. And his unjustified pride in himself is why he can't understand Elizabeth's refusal (something that Darcy, who has far more reason to think highly of himself believes immediately). And he's extremely selfish. Just look at his proposal. It's all about his happiness -- he doesn't mention or care about Elizabeth's happiness. He ignores her warning at the ball about his impropriety of introducing himself to Darcy (ignoring her doesn't bode well for Charlotte's influence as a wife). Even worse, after Lydia's disgrace, Collins suggests she'd be better off dead. The difference between him and Darcy is that D takes E's criticism to heart and changes his ways to be more attractive to her. What woman wouldn't want that? Also, Austen's books show us many examples of clergymen who are good, unselfish people and enjoy a quiet life -- including heroes in Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. While the author's overall point about contentment is a good one, she completely misreads Collins's character when holding him up as an example.

    • SE Hutch

      I'm not sure that this is the correct interpretation of Mr. Collins. (Somewhat surprised to find the "boiled potatoes" reference used as evidence here--that's from the 2005 film, not from Jane Austen herself!) People who adopt an overinflated self-importance are rarely contented with themselves. Mr. Collins is self-deluded, certainly, not self-confident. For one thing, his entire self-image rests on the favor and good opinion of his patroness and the opinion of all of his audience who is condemned to listen to him praise her again and again as he grasps for recognition and importance. On the surface, he may appear content, however, Jane knows better and so do we.

    • Annie Kitching

      Love this so much!

    • S Blake

      I can only assume the author of this article hasn't actually read 'Pride and Prejudice'. The boiled potatoes reference gives it away instantly - that's a line from the 2005 film adaptation, not the original book - however, so does the whole premise of him being a contented person. He really isn't. Austen - who had a brilliant grasp of character psychology - describes him as: "a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility." Those are not qualities that are compatible with genuine contentment. We could envy Mr Collins in one sense, perhaps, because the position in life he has fallen into far exceeds his merits or understanding (and wouldn't it be nice if we could all be so lucky?) - but he's not, within himself, a contented man. If anything, that combination of being, on the one hand, an abject people-pleaser (a sign that, contrary to the article author's assertion, he actually cares deeply about what others think about him) and, on the other hand, being full of false self-consequence, marks him out as having deep self-esteem issues and probably an unconscious self-loathing. People who are authentically contented and happy in their own skin don't constantly fawn on others - nor do they feel the need to inflate their own egos artificially.

    You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.

    —Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter

    I have long been of the opinion that Mr. Collins of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice gets a lot more flak than he deserves.

    Yet another in Jane Austen’s long line of odious Anglican priests (what did they ever do to you, Jane?), Mr. Collins is one of the most universally derided characters in all of literature or film, whose very name elicits knowing eye rolls and involuntary huffs of annoyance. Why do people hate him so much? I suppose one of the main reasons is that he’s just so annoying. He says the wrong thing, he doesn’t know how to act at a ball, he proposes to women for whom said proposals are clearly undesired. Ironically, of course, much of this could be said of Mr. Darcy. The difference here seems to be that Mr. Darcy is handsome and rich, so his lack of tact is mysterious and interesting, whereas Mr. Collins’ is annoying and selfish. In Mr. Collins’ favor, I would argue that at least he tries! His compliments concerning boiled potatoes may be premeditated, but is that not a better approach than sullen silence? (I’m looking at you, Fitzwilliam!).

    The greatest mark on Mr. Collins’ record, of course, is his skin-crawlingly awkward proposal to Elizabeth Bennet. After laying out some very rational reasons for wishing to marry Miss Elizabeth (that it would greatly add to his happiness! that a good pastor should set an example of matrimony for his parish! that it would keep Elizabeth’s childhood home in the family!), he experiences the inconceivable: rejection! Struggling to make sense of this, he attributes this rejection of advances to the “true delicacy of the female character.”

    No means no, Mr. Collins! Read the room!

    Of course, the whole point of Mr. Collins is that he can’t read the room. That is why we love to hate him. Both in the story and outside of it, Mr. Collins is eminently mockable because we know he doesn’t understand that he’s being made fun of. But for all his flaws, there is a simplicity to Mr. Collins that I admire and enjoy. He lives in a small and imperturbable world where all that matters is Fordyce’s sermons, the securement of a wife for the increase of his happiness, and the distinguished patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And while we’re all laughing at him, Mr. Collins lives in a state of domestic felicity, blessed with a stable life, a meaningful job, and excellent in-laws, satisfied with the choices he has made in life.

    Mr. Collins possesses a secret that evades many of the characters in Pride and Prejudice, and so often evades me: contentment.

    Let there be no doubt: Mr. Collins has a lucky life, and many things to be thankful for. Not everyone is so fortunate as to secure the venerable patronage of a person like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or to inherit such a fine estate as Longbourn. The lines have certainly fallen to him in pleasant places, but I do not think that it is mere good fortune that makes Mr. Collins so pleased with his lot in life. Even the most pleasing of worldly ease is not necessarily a guarantee of satisfaction. We see this clearly in the case of another character who shares almost identical circumstances, and yet manages to make himself and many other people deeply unhappy: Mr. Wickham.

    Like Mr. Collins, Mr. Wickham is offered a job as a clergyman on the estate at Pemberley, with the younger Mr. Darcy as his patron in almost the exact same arrangement as Mr. Collins. Mr. Wickham even has the better luck of having his education paid for. However, instead of reveling in his good fortune, seeking a ruby of a wife, and trying to be the best vicar he can, Mr. Wickham sets out to reenact the parable of the prodigal son, squandering his wealth on women and drink, and refusing to be useful, studious, or grateful. Unlike the prodigal son, however, there is no repentance in Mr. Wickham, and he lives out his sullen life making problems and manipulating money out of good people.

    still from the 1995 BBC series of Pride and Prejudice showing Mr Collins rubbing his hands together

    David Bamber as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice (1995) Image from IMDb

    My point here is that circumstances can certainly aid us in happiness, but they cannot create it. Mr. Collins is a lucky fellow, but he also has the constitution to enjoy it. Through either personality or practice, he has developed a habit of regarding life in a way that enables him to enjoy it. He makes it a point to notice the things in his life about which he is pleased. And there is no joy too small to celebrate. Be it boiled potatoes, the windowpanes at Rosings, or the momentous advent of shelves in a closet, Mr. Collins gives himself over to delight. To put it simply: he has cultivated thankfulness.

    People like to say that the test of a person’s character is not failure but success, but I think this assumes we all succeed a lot more than we actually do. In my experience, failure, rejection, or loss is the much more common and continual test of character in one’s life than success. No matter how clever, or thankful, or well-meaning we are, life simply will not always go our way; someone else will get the job, the girl, the accolade. Much of our happiness will depend on how we handle these losses. Whether we choose to become bitter, or to blame ourselves, or to vow not to put ourselves out there again, or to be satisfied with what we have been given, how we handle loss shapes how we face the future and how we feel about life.

    The closest I come to despising Mr. Collins and feeling he truly has shown a vice is after his sloppy and conceited proposal, followed by his astonished refusal to believe that Elizabeth could possibly say no to such a fine catch as himself. (You have to respect the self-confidence.) Now, before we indulge in a Mr. Collins hate-fest, you must remember that in his mind, he was doing right by his cousins. Because he stood to inherit the estate, finding a wife amongst the Bennets would have ensured that none of Lizzy’s four siblings or mother would have to be turned out upon Mr. Bennet’s death. So, he simply surveyed the sisters and picked the best one.

    Mr. Collins is simply encountering the uncomfortable reality that every person you date will either marry or break up with you. I suppose in the Regency era, this could be applied to proposals since they seem to skip the courtship, for the most part. The whole endeavor of romance opens us up to the alarming possibility that our happiness could depend on someone else, and other people have minds, wills, and desires that might be entirely dissonant with our own! The horror!

    And this speaks to the even larger reality that no matter how kind you are, not everyone in the world will like you. At some point or another, we all encounter rejection.

    Be it boiled potatoes, the windowpanes at Rosings, or the momentous advent of shelves in a closet, Mr. Collins gives himself over to delight.

    I wish to make the following point: there is a virtue in learning to suck it up, take it on the chin, and carry on with your life.

    How do we find it in ourselves to do this? Well, I think first of all, we must have a sense of our own value and dignity. Dignified country vicars do not beg for someone to change their minds! And they certainly do not mope!

    After the first sting of rejection, and a dignified public acceptance of defeat, you must learn to privately accept rejection in a way that feeds neither bitterness nor helplessness.

    Practicing thankfulness prior to rejection helps soften the blow because you are already aware of how abundant your life is.

    Think, again, dear reader, of Mr. Collins. If he had accepted total defeat and crawled into a hole of eternal bachelorhood, he would never have won the treasure of Charlotte, dear Charlotte.

    At the end of Pride and Prejudice, I always think to myself how awkward family Christmases must be for the Bennet/Darcy/Bingley/Wickham extended household. You could hardly comment on the weather without mentioning a verboten son-in-law or raising the ire of a sarcastic sister-in-law. But Mr. Collins? He dodges all that. His in-laws are the lovely Lucases, fine, undramatic gentle people.

    Though Lizzy’s initial rejection may have stung, Mr. Collins should count his blessings, for they are plenteous. And you know what’s great? I know he will count his blessings!

    Perhaps even after all this you will still insist that Mr. Collins is laughable, and I would say that there is one more lesson that we have to learn from him: do not care too much of what other people think of you. Do not care even if they think your life is silly. While we all laugh and chortle about how weird he is, Mr. Collins is living his best life now.

    Mr. Collins has the last laugh.


    Excerpted from Aggressively Happy © 2022 by Joy Clarkson. Published by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing House. Used by permission.

    Contributed By JoyClarkson2 Joy Clarkson

    Joy Clarkson holds a PhD in theology from the Institute for Theology and the Arts at the University of Saint Andrews. She hosts Speaking with Joy, a popular podcast about art, theology, and culture, and writes books.

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