Answer: Elizabeth Bennet
Mr. Collins, a pompous and obsequious clergyman, proposes marriage to Elizabeth Bennet, the second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice. The novel, first published in 1813, explores themes of love, social class, and individual character within the context of Regency-era England.
Mr. Collins’ Motivation
Mr. Collins is a distant cousin of Mr. Bennet and stands to inherit the Bennet family’s estate, Longbourn, due to the entailment. An entailment is a legal arrangement in which an estate is passed down through the male line, preventing it from being divided or sold off. As a result, Mr. Collins feels a sense of duty to marry one of the Bennet daughters to secure the family’s future and “make amends” for inheriting the estate. He initially sets his sights on Jane Bennet, the eldest and most beautiful of the sisters, but Mrs. Bennet informs him that she is already being courted by another gentleman, Mr. Bingley.
The Proposal to Elizabeth
With Jane seemingly unavailable, Mr. Collins turns his attention to Elizabeth, the next eldest daughter, known for her intelligence and wit. He believes that by marrying her, he will not only fulfill his duty but also acquire a suitable wife for a clergyman. Elizabeth, however, is not interested in Mr. Collins’ proposal due to his pompous demeanor and lack of genuine affection.
Mr. Collins proposes to Elizabeth in a formal and self-important manner, stressing his connections to the wealthy and influential Lady Catherine de Bourgh and the material benefits of the match. He disregards Elizabeth’s initial refusal and assumes that she is merely playing hard to get, which was a common assumption during this time period. Elizabeth, however, is adamant in her refusal, and after several failed attempts to change her mind, Mr. Collins finally accepts her rejection.
Following his rejection by Elizabeth, Mr. Collins quickly turns his attention to her close friend, Charlotte Lucas. Charlotte, who is more pragmatic than Elizabeth, accepts his proposal, understanding the importance of financial security and the limited opportunities available to unmarried women of her social standing. This marriage highlights the contrast between Elizabeth’s pursuit of love and happiness in her own marriage and the practical considerations that drive other characters’ decisions.
Relevance to the Novel’s Themes
Mr. Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth is significant in several ways. It underscores the societal pressure placed on women to marry for financial security and social status rather than love and personal compatibility. The contrast between Elizabeth’s rejection of Mr. Collins and Charlotte’s acceptance highlights the novel’s exploration of the balance between practicality and romantic ideals in marriage.
Additionally, Elizabeth’s refusal of Mr. Collins’ proposal demonstrates her independence and strong convictions. Her decision to prioritize personal happiness and genuine affection over material gain is a key aspect of her character, and it is instrumental in her eventual marriage to Mr. Darcy, the novel’s romantic lead. By rejecting Mr. Collins, Elizabeth ultimately paves the way for her own personal growth and eventual happiness with a partner who respects and admires her for her intelligence and wit.