Mr Collins Makes a Proposal of Marriage
The next day opened a new scene at Longbourn: Mr Collins made a formal proposal of marriage. Having decided to do it without delay, and having no lack of self-confidence, he began in a very orderly manner with all the ceremony which he supposed to be a regular part of the business. On finding Mrs Bennet, Elizabeth and one of the younger girls together soon after breakfast, he addressed the mother in these words:
‘May I hope, madam, to speak privately with your lovely daughter Elizabeth?’
Before Elizabeth had time to express her surprise, Mrs Bennet immediately answered:
‘Oh, yes, certainly. I am sure that Lizzy can have no objection. Come, Kitty, I want you upstairs.’ And picking up her sewing, she was hurrying away, when Elizabeth called out:
‘I beg you not to go. Mr Collins must excuse me. He can have nothing to say to me that anybody need not hear. I am going away myself.’
‘No, no, nonsense, Lizzy. I desire you to stay where you are.’ And when Elizabeth seemed about to escape, she added, ‘Lizzy, you must stay and hear Mr Collins.’
Elizabeth could not oppose such a command, and a moment’s consideration made her realize that it would be better to get the matter settled, so she sat down again. Mrs Bennet and Kitty walked off, and as soon as they were gone, Mr Collins began:
‘Believe me, my dear Miss Elizabeth, your behaviour only adds to your other perfections. You would have been less pleasing in my eyes if there had not been this little unwillingness, but allow me to inform you that I have your respected mother’s permission for this address. Almost as soon as I entered this house, I made you my choice as the companion of my future life. My reasons for marrying are, first, I think it a right thing for every church minister to set an example by doing so; secondly, I am sure that it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly, Lady Catherine has advised it. As I am heir to this property on the death of your honoured father, I decided to choose my wife from among his daughters. I know very well that you have little fortune, but I shall never blame you for that when we are married.’
It was necessary to stop him now.
‘You are in too much of a hurry, sir,’ she cried. ‘You forget that I have made no answer. Accept my thanks for the honour that you are showing me, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to refuse your proposal.’
‘I quite understand,’ replied Mr Collins, with a wave of the hand, ‘that it is usual for young ladies to refuse the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he asks for the first time.’
‘On my honour, sir,’ cried Elizabeth, ‘I am perfectly serious in my refusal.’
‘When I next speak to you on this subject,’ continued Mr Collins, ‘I shall expect to receive a more favourable answer.’
Elizabeth tried without success to make him believe her. He had too good an opinion of himself and his position, and he pointed out that she was too poor to receive many other offers. To this she could make no reply, and immediately, and in silence, left the room, with the intention of asking for her father’s support.
Mrs Bennet had waited in the hall for the end of the conversation. As soon as she saw Elizabeth open the door and, with a quick step, pass her towards the stairway, she entered the breakfast room and congratulated both Mr Collins and herself. Mr Collins received and returned these good wishes, but when he went on to give details of his conversation with Elizabeth, the information astonished Mrs Bennet.
‘But you may depend on it, Mr Collins,’ she added, ‘that Lizzy shall be made to behave reasonably. I will speak to her myself immediately. She is a very foolish girl, and does not know her own interest, but I will make her know it. I will go to Mr Bennet, and we shall very soon settle the matter with her, I am sure.’
She would not give him time to reply, but hurried immediately to her husband, and called out as she entered the library: ‘Oh, Mr Bennet, you are wanted immediately. You must come and make Lizzy marry Mr Collins, because she swears she will not have him.’
Mr Bennet raised his eyes from his book as she entered, and fixed them on her face with a calm unconcern which was not in the least changed by her information.
‘I have not the pleasure of understanding you,’ he said, when she had finished her speech. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Mr Collins and Lizzy. Lizzy says that she will not have Mr Collins, and if you do not hurry, he will change his mind and not have her!
‘And what am I to do about it? It seems a hopeless business.’
‘Speak to Lizzy about it yourself. Tell her that she must marry him.’
‘Let her be called down. She shall hear my opinion.’
Mrs Bennet rang the bell and Miss Elizabeth was sent for.
‘Come here, child,’ said her father as she appeared. ‘I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?’ Elizabeth replied that it was. ‘Very well — and you have refused this offer of marriage?’
‘I have, sir.’
‘Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother demands that you accept it. Is it not so, Mrs Bennet?’
‘Yes, or I will never see her again.’
‘An unhappy choice is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you will be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do!
Elizabeth could not help smiling at such an ending to such a beginning. Mrs Bennet, on the other hand, was extremely disappointed. She returned to the subject repeatedly, using both persuasion and threats to try and change her daughter’s mind. Mr Collins himself remained silent and offended, unable to understand how his cousin could possibly refuse him.
While the family were in this state, Charlotte Lucas came to spend the day with them. Mr Collins’s attentions were now turned to her, which Elizabeth found to be a great relief.