2013 JASNA Essay Contest Second Place Winner College/University Division
Pride and Restraint: The Timing of Mr. Collins’s and Mr. Darcy’s Direct Discourse
To compare the sophisticated Mr. Darcy and the buffoonish Mr. Collins may, on the surface, appear strange. However, despite obvious differences in rank and intelligence, there are a surprising number of parallels between these two characters. For example, they are both introduced in the narration as “tall,” with “noble mien” (Austen 6) and a “grave and stately” air (44), respectively. Both are prideful, for different reasons, and, most significantly, both propose to Elizabeth Bennet. Moreover, the form of the narrative reinforces the parallel between these two men, as Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth in Mr. Collins’s house. Looking at these two failed proposals, the importance of speech is paramount, and Austen’s use of direct dialogue is expertly timed. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, characters use a combination of direct and indirect speech, Mr. Collins speaking directly much more often (and in longer monologues) than Mr. Darcy. The timing of Mr. Collins’s and Mr. Darcy’s direct discourse in each of their failed proposals highlights the sources of each man’s pride: Darcy has pride in his character, while Collins has pride in his connections. I will first demonstrate that the characters’ indirect speech indicates restraint, relate this restraint to the relationship between the form and content of each proposal, and show how the timing of direct discourse emphasizes Collins’s and Darcy’s different sources of pride.
Mr. Darcy is, in many ways, the epitome of restraint. He speaks only when he has something to say, to the extent that his excessive silence is taken for pride. Elizabeth comments that both she and Darcy are “unwilling to speak, unless [they] expect to say something that will amaze the whole room” (Austen 63). Darcy’s speech is often relayed indirectly, which emphasizes his succinctness and propriety. Though Darcy initially declares his love for Elizabeth directly, he finishes his proposal in indirect discourse, which reflects the repression of his more noble feelings in favor of prideful pragmatism. In chapter thirty-four, Darcy finds Elizabeth alone in Mr. Collins’s house. His first words are conveyed in the same paragraph as his entrance, and are relayed via indirect discourse: “In an hurried manner he immediately began an enquiry after her health, imputing his visit to a wish of hearing that she were better” (128). Darcy’s first direct speech comes after “several minutes” (128) of agitated silence: “In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you” (128-129). He loses control of himself in his first profession of love, claiming that his “feelings will not be repressed” (128). However, even as he reveals his true feelings to Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy allows his better feelings to be quelled by her “family obstacles,” which must be “a degradation” to him:
…the avowal of all that he felt and had long felt for her, immediately followed. He spoke well; but there were feelings besides those of the heart to be detailed; and he was not more eloquent on the subject of tenderness than of pride. His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit. (Austen 129)
That the remainder of Mr. Darcy’s proposal is relayed indirectly emphasizes the repression of his love for Elizabeth in favor of practical objections motivated by pride. Austen times Darcy’s indirect discourse to indicate his continued denial of his more noble feelings.
In contrast, Mr. Collins mainly speaks in direct dialogue, and his digressions and circumlocutions exemplify a general, rather than circumstantial, lack of restraint. He is described as someone who is “neither in need of encouragement [to speak], nor inclined to be silent himself” (Austen 44). He introduces himself to Mr. Darcy with no thought of propriety, and apologizes for “a quarter of an hour” for implying that the Bennets do not keep a cook (45). Mr. Collins’s conversations are marked by irrelevance and excess, and his proposal to Elizabeth is no exception. His supposed declaration of love is mainly a digression about Lady Catherine de Bourgh:
“…and it was the very Saturday night before I left Hunsford—between our pools at quadrille, while Mrs. Jenkinson was arranging Miss de Bourgh’s foot-stool, that she said, ‘Mr. Collins, you must marry. 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. This is my advice. Find such a woman as soon as you can, bring her to Hunsford, and I will visit her.’” (Austen 73)
Mr. Collins repeats Lady Catherine’s exact words, even when her advice is repetitive. By using direct speech, Austen allows the reader to experience the length of time Mr. Collins spends praising Lady Catherine during his proposal. Throughout the novel, Mr. Collins boasts about Lady Catherine’s preferment and his position as a clergyman. At the Netherfield Ball, he finds his connection to Lady Catherine sufficient justification for introducing himself to Mr. Darcy, and tells Elizabeth that he considers “the clerical office as equal in point of dignity with the highest rank in the kingdom” (67). The impropriety and irrelevance of Mr. Collins’s proposal is emphasized by the length of his quoted monologues and his pretentious word choice, in a more powerful way than indirect speech would have done. From this, Mr. Collins’s priorities are evident. The content of his proposal to Elizabeth—meant to be a profession of love—is instead filled with his devotion to Lady Catherine.
The restraint implied by indirect discourse is timed to illuminate the contrast between the form and content of Mr. Collins’s and Mr. Darcy’s proposals. The artificiality of Mr. Collins’s proposal is first seen in the contrived manner in which Mrs. Bennet maneuvers to leave Mr. Collins and Elizabeth alone together; she orders Kitty to leave the room despite Elizabeth’s protestations (Austen 72). The engagement of two people in love is replaced with Mr. Collins’s pragmatic proposal to an unwilling Elizabeth. Mr. Collins’s marriage proposal is passionate in form, but contains no content of love. He begins his proposal by praising Elizabeth’s modesty, but decides to outline his reasons for marrying before he is “run away with by [his] feelings on the subject” (73). It is clear, however, that it is not Mr. Collins’s feelings that are running away with him, but his speech. Mr. Collins feels no affection for Elizabeth. He originally intends to marry Jane and only switches his attentions to Elizabeth when he learns of Jane’s impending engagement. Once Elizabeth rejects him, he moves on to Charlotte within a matter of days. Elizabeth barely refrains from laughing at the “idea of Mr. Collins, with all his solemn composure, being run away with by his feelings” (73), for his proposal is entirely pragmatic. He is marrying because Lady Catherine has advised him to do so.
The discrepancy between the form and content of Mr. Collins’s proposal is consistent with his behavior throughout Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Collins takes pride in his “authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector” (47); he does not value his position of spiritual leadership, but the importance that this position brings him. Though he attends a university, he “merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance” (47). Collins’s marriage proposal is yet another ritual that he values for the wrong reasons. Lauber notes that, for Mr. Collins, the social ritual is mistaken for the reality; he recognizes the ceremony without its content (516). He aims to assure Elizabeth “in the most animated language of the violence of my affection” (Austen 74). However, the timing of Collins’s praise of Lady Catherine—in the middle of his proposal—demonstrates that he is really concerned with the appearance of marriage as a proper state for a clergyman, and with Lady Catherine’s opinion. By showing his direct discourse, Austen allows the reader to see the length of time Collins devotes to digressions and ridiculous notions in the midst of his proposal. Instead of repressing his feelings for the sake of propriety, he claims to have feelings to repress but merely fails to control his speech. He is as unrestrained as a stereotypical lover, but he lacks any noble passion that might excuse his excesses, which are truly the result of pride. The content of his proposal has nothing to do with his own feelings, but with the feelings of those on whom he bases his pride.
Darcy’s speech, on the other hand, has the content of love, but this love is in constant conflict with his pride. The solitude in which Darcy approaches Elizabeth contrasts sharply with the contrived manner in which Mrs. Bennet maneuvers to leave Collins and Elizabeth alone together. Elizabeth has just learned that Darcy helped separate Bingley and Jane. In her anger, she feels unequal to seeing the man who has ruined her sister’s happiness, and she tells Mr. Collins that she is too ill to dine at Rosings that night. Ironically, Elizabeth is alone because she wishes to avoid the man who uses her solitude to propose to her. Elizabeth is as unwilling to hear Darcy’s proposal as she is to hear Collins’s, but Darcy’s proposal is at least not a result of manipulation and a desire to please Lady Catherine. Darcy’s speech is normally restrained, to the extent that his silence is taken for pride, and his restraint shows in his declaration of affection. However, when Elizabeth personally offends his pride, Darcy is prompted to speak unrestrainedly. Darcy’s outbursts in this scene are the result of passion—in this case, anger. He expresses the love he feels for Elizabeth somewhat composedly (as implied by the indirect discourse and formal language), and it takes a personal affront to his pride to cause him to lose his restraint. His direct speeches showcase a display of sarcasm, anger, and violent exclamations: “And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected” (Austen 130). That Darcy’s pride is affected is clear: “Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?” (131). The direct speech here differs significantly from Darcy’s speech in the rest of the novel. Anderson notes that Darcy’s speech typically “has the tone and weight of Dr. Johnson” and demonstrates significant self-reflection (377). In this scene, however, Darcy expresses his thoughts bluntly and fervently, in sharp contrast to his usual reserved manner. He may be “violently” in love with Elizabeth, but the timing of the transition to direct speech reinforces that it is Darcy’s pride that damages his self-control.
The timing of Collins’s and Darcy’s direct discourse emphasizes the relationship between restraint and pride in each man’s character. Darcy’s direct speech in his first proposal shows an uncharacteristic lack of control, and is reminiscent of Mr. Collins’s uncontrolled monologues. However, both his direct and indirect speeches are prideful, so his pride alone does not determine his level of restraint. It is the wounds to his pride that cause him to lose control. Darcy concludes his first proposal “with representing to [Elizabeth] the strength of that attachment, which, in spite of all his endeavours, he had found impossible to conquer” (Austen 129). This indirect speech shows that, in his pride, Darcy is certain of Elizabeth’s acceptance. He does have some right to expect her to accept his proposal, if for nothing other than the “pure and disinterested desire for an establishment” (84). Elizabeth, however, is repulsed at the idea of marrying the cause of her sister’s unhappiness, a man who has insulted her in the same breath as he declared his love. Darcy lapses into impassioned, direct speech when someone offends his pride. The pride that prompts his unrestrained outbursts is the same pride that causes him to suppress his passions—both his love for Elizabeth and his distaste for her connections and status. His propriety and self-control are admirable qualities in themselves: Darcy’s second proposal is also relayed indirectly, and this proposal is favorable. Unlike Mr. Collins, Darcy is confident in the source of his pride—he feels no need to justify his importance to others. Only when his reputation is directly attacked does he lose his sense of propriety. As the novel goes on, Darcy overcomes much of his pride and learns to love Elizabeth because of who she is, and not in spite of who she is. While Mr. Darcy loses self-control when his pride is wounded, however, Mr. Collins is unrestrained in his constant justification of his pride to others.
Mr. Collins is also prideful, but his lack of restraint is always an issue, not just when his pride is injured. His pride constantly exhibits itself in excessive self-justification: he brings his connections and position of power and influence into every conversation that he has. Mr. Collins’s proposal is devoid of love, but he is as unrestrained as he always is. That he uses direct discourse from the very beginning of his proposal is significantly timed: Collins’s pride in his connections always leads him to self-indulgent impropriety. He does not believe Elizabeth’s refusal of his hand, because he believes his “situation in life” and his “connections with the family of de Bourgh” are “circumstances highly in [his] favour” (Austen 75). The amount of time Collins devotes to these topics—which are often irrelevant to the conversation—in his speech demonstrates the role pride plays in Collins’s unrestrained behavior. In his proposal to Elizabeth, he talks more about his adoration of Lady Catherine than any feelings he has for the woman he proposes to marry. This pride causes him to value the appearance of being a gentleman over the reality. Mr. Collins’s lack of restraint is not a momentary aberration; it rules his life all the time.
In each of their failed proposals, Mr. Darcy’s and Mr. Collins’s direct discourse is timed to highlight Darcy’s underlying sense of propriety and self-restraint and Collins’s lack thereof. Both men are prideful, but Mr. Collins’s pride, in needing to be justified, permeates all of his behavior. Mr. Collins’s pride causes him to value the appearance of respectability over actual respectability. He does not have pride in himself, but in his connections and position—things incidental to himself. In this way, he must constantly justify his pride through excessive moralizing and digressions in praise of Lady Catherine. The result is unrestrained and inappropriate speech that achieves the opposite of its intended effect—Mr. Collins is portrayed as a fool with little sense of propriety. Mr. Darcy is confident in his position, and his pride is founded on real noble qualities in himself, as well as his wealth and connections. Though this pride initially causes Darcy to overlook the real noble qualities of others—like Elizabeth—it is a pride that must be tempered, not destroyed. The timeliness of the narrative transition to direct discourse shows that it is when his pride is wounded that he loses control of his speech. Darcy’s direct discourse begins precisely when he loses control of himself and his emotions. Pride in one’s social status or authority is as much a human failing today as it was in Regency England. Can pride be justified? The question of the proper source of pride is timeless, and Austen gives a tentative answer in Pride and Prejudice. If we consider Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy, some kinds of pride are clearly better than others. Pride in oneself—in genuinely noble qualities like self-control and tact—is more valid than pride in one’s external connections. The former, at least, values a noble character; the latter values the appearance of nobility. This pride must be tempered with respect for others, however, as Mr. Darcy learns throughout the novel and Mr. Collins never does. Having grown in humility, the Mr. Darcy who proposes to Elizabeth the second time has learned that pride in oneself is healthy—in its proper time and place.
Anderson, Walter E. “Plot, Character, Speech, and Place in Pride and Prejudice.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 30.3 (Dec. 1975): 367-382. JSTOR. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.
Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. 1813. New York: Dover Publications, 1995. Print.
Lauber, John. “Jane Austen’s Fools.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 14.4 (Fall 1974): 511-524. JSTOR. Web. 27 Jan. 2013.