Chapter Thirteen, Part 2
Originally published 4/9/2006.
Continued from last time.
"At four o'clock, therefore, we may expect this peace-making gentleman," said Mr. Bennet, as he folded up the letter. "He seems to be a most conscientious and polite young man, upon my word, and I doubt not will prove a valuable acquaintance, especially if Lady Catherine should be so indulgent as to let him come to us again."
I think I detect an enormous amount of sarcasm here. As Lizzy points out, the absurdity of much of this letter makes Mr. Bennet hope that he will get some amusement out of observing the silliness of Mr. Collins.
"There is some sense in what he says about the girls, however, and if he is disposed to make them any amends, I shall not be the person to discourage him."
Mrs. Bennet here. In fact, this is precisely the point about the letter which does not contain any sense, again, as Lizzy points out.
"Though it is difficult," said Jane, "to guess in what way he can mean to make us the atonement he thinks our due, the wish is certainly to his credit."
It's the thought that counts, right? Well, that is truth, but it only goes so far. One has only to look at Uzzah and the ark, or the sons of Aaron offering strange fire, to know that to intend to do the right thing simply isn't enough (though I admit that there could be a good case to make that in both of those examples, there is rebellion going on.)
Elizabeth was chiefly struck by his extraordinary deference for Lady Catherine, and his kind intention of christening, marrying, and burying his parishioners whenever it were required.
"He must be an oddity, I think," said she. "I cannot make him out. There is something very pompous in his style. And what can he mean by apologising for being next in the entail? We cannot suppose he would help it if he could. Could he be a sensible man, sir?"
"No, my dear, I think not. I have great hopes of finding him quite the reverse. There is a mixture of servility and self-importance in his letter, which promises well. I am impatient to see him."
This comment of Mr. Bennet's is almost certainly understood only by Jane and Lizzy. Mary's statement just below indicates she doesn't have a clue what Mr. Bennet just said.
"In point of composition," said Mary, "the letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive-branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed."
Austen does seem to paint a one-sided picture of Mary, doesn't she? Always saying the sort of obvious things that my Mom would call, "Motherhood statements." Things like, "One should have adequate lighting."
To Catherine and Lydia, neither the letter nor its writer were in any degree interesting. It was next to impossible that their cousin should come in a scarlet coat, and it was now some weeks since they had received pleasure from the society of a man in any other colour...
They are not interested in Mr. Collins, but for a bad reason. They, too, are committing ad hominem circumstantial: Mr. Collins is not in the army, therefore he is not as interesting as an officer.
...As for their mother, Mr. Collins's letter had done away much of her ill-will, and she was preparing to see him with a degree of composure which astonished her husband and daughters.
Why is that? I suspect that Mrs. Bennet may actually be one up on her family this time: she may have spotted Mr. Collins's intentions to marry one of her daughters. Since the chief business of her life is to get her daughters married off, she sees everything in that light. And Mr. Collins did drop a hint or two.
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 disposed of in marriage. This gallantry was not much to the taste of some of his hearers;...
He was probably just fine until he got to the marriage bit. Although, the girls might not have liked him to compliment them on their beauty, because of the connotation that he might be interested in them. Since they're none of them interested in him, gallantry on his part might likely be ill-received.
...but Mrs. Bennet, who quarreled with no compliments, answered most readily.
"You are very kind, I am sure; and I wish with all my heart it may prove so, for else they will be destitute enough. Things are settled so oddly."
"You allude, perhaps, to the entail of this estate."
No "perhaps" about it here for Mr. Collins.
"Ah! sir, I do indeed. It is a grievous affair to my poor girls, you must confess. Not that I mean to find fault with you, for such things I know are all chance in this world...
Which is more than she said before. This is much more sensible than she said before. That leads me to believe that if my theory about Mrs. Bennet suspecting Mr. Collins of making a pass at one of her daughters is correct, then her perception has not only smoothed over the breach, but even caused her to think a hair (if only a hair!) more rationally.
...There is no knowing how estates will go when once they come to be entailed."
"I am very sensible, madam, of the hardship to my fair cousins, and could say much on the subject, but that I am cautious of appearing forward and precipitate...
Thus is Mr. Collins appearing forward and precipitate.
...But I can assure the young ladies that I come prepared to admire them. At present I will not say more; but, perhaps, when we are better acquainted-- "
He was interrupted by a summons to dinner; and the girls smiled on each other...
Why? Because they see what he is about, and none of them are interested in him.
...They were not the only objects of Mr. Collin's admiration. The hall, the dining-room, and all its furniture, were examined and praised; and his commendation of everything would have touched Mrs. Bennet's heart, but for the mortifying supposition of his viewing it all as his own future property. The dinner too in its turn was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellency of its cooking was owing. But he was set right there by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him with some asperity that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen...
As we have already seen, cooking is something Mrs. Bennet prides herself on in her household, to the point of disparaging a lower degree of attainment in anyone else. It's rather different these days. I would much more admire a woman who was brought up to cook than not. Being middle-class, and not able to afford a cook, my lifestyle will no doubt exclude such a luxury.
...He begged pardon for having displeased her. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologise for about a quarter of an hour.
As Wodehouse would say, "Sort of clinching the thing." Here Mr. Collins way overdoes it. It's probably too much for everyone's patience. The BBC version, again, does this quite well. The look on Mrs. Bennet's face is quite apt.