William Collins is one of the Pride and Prejudice characters that most JAFF readers love to hate. JAFF authors, myself included, have done all manner of things with and to him, some good and some not so good. For example, Leenie Brown made him loveable in Master of Longbourn. In To Save Elizabeth, I made him hateful … he hired someone to kill the Bennets. But … what is he really like? How did Jane Austen write him? Below are two excerpts from Pride and Prejudice that describe him.
From Chapter 14
Mr. Collins was punctual to his time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr. Bennet indeed said little; but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr. Collins seemed neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to be silent himself. He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. He had not been long seated before he complimented Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters; said he had heard much of their beauty, but that in this instance fame had fallen short of the truth; and added, that he did not doubt her seeing them all in due time well disposed of in marriage. This gallantry was not much to the taste of some of his hearers; but Mrs. Bennet, who quarrelled with no compliments, answered most readily — …
Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner; but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank, and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.
One of my jobs as a writer is to create characters. In every book, I think I have had at least one original character, sometimes more than one. They might just be servants, but they might be family members or friends, or even the children of Our Dear Couple.
I confess I’m not very good at this, in my opinion, so I often use worksheets to figure out the basics of each character. Below is the sketch I recently made of Mr. Collins. Most of it is based on canon, but a few things are fanon or just flat out things I made up. Let’s see if you can guess which is which. I’ve attached the worksheet to the post, so you can see how I worked through it. I wrote the sketch in the order things appeared on the worksheet, which may or may not make sense.
William Collins is a 25-year-old man. His birthday is January 17th, which was the coldest day of the year during the winter in which he was born. His poor mother suffered greatly to bring him into the world in a home where her miserly husband would not pay for extra coal to stoke up the fire.
Now an adult, Mr. Collins is tall and stately but heavy looking at 6’ 2” and 300 pounds. His black hair is slicked back. His eyes are brown beneath thick, heavy brows and above a large nose. He has a tendency to sweat when nervous, which is usually when someone has called him out for something.
Mr. Collins completed a University education and took orders. He was somehow brought to the notice of Lady Catherine de Bourgh of Rosings in Kent. She demonstrated her beneficence by granting him the living at Hunsford, a post of which he is most proud.
Mr. Collins’ parents have both passed away. When he was a lad, his mother caught a chill that turned into pneumonia. She never recovered. He was then raised to adulthood by his father, who was illiterate as well as miserly. It is suspected that the elder Collins was abusive to his only son. Regardless, William went to school with an air of humility about him.
William Collins is talented at making delicate compliments to ladies. He is also very good at writing pompous, ridiculous letters, and demeaning himself to his patroness.
Like all of us, Collins has flaws. He is a silly man, not at all sensible. He behaves ridiculously and frequently makes himself a laughingstock.
Collins is both conceited and humble at the same time. At the least, he makes himself seem humble, though his actions often display that way down deep, he’s far prouder than he is humble. He is easily offended. He fawns over those he sees as his betters. His manners are formal.
Mr. Collins spends his time copying sermons from books, chattering to Mr. Bennet in the book room, accompanying his cousins on walks to Meryton, and flirting with Lizzy. He also makes astonishingly bad proposals of marriage.
Collins doesn’t at all like novels. He would never think to travel on Epiphany or a Sunday, either.
Mr. Collins has a very high opinion of himself. After all, he is the rector of Hunsford parish and has a very fine home and income. He graduated from University and was the first in his family to do so. He is also the future master of Longbourn, a state that will greatly increase his wealth.
Mr. Collins is associated with the following keywords: entail, Hunsford, rector, Lady Catherine, Longbourn, doofus, nonsensical, obsequious.
A quote from Mr. Collins: “Almost as soon as I entered the house, I singled you out as the companion of my future life.”
Mr. Collins’ epitaph: Lady Catherine, my esteemed patroness, gave me leave.
Mr. Collins doesn’t drive himself. He prefers to take the post, Lady Catherine’s carriage, or to walk. He dresses in sober colors. His clothes are made of inexpensive fabrics and are cheaply tailored.
And there you have it. While I don’t think Austen made Mr. Collins as bad as some JAFF paints him, he’s clearly not someone who is easily liked. Unless, of course, your name is Charlotte Lucas, you’re 27, and a burden to your parents and Collins proposes to you. You can always encourage him to tend the garden. 😉