Tuesday, May 17, 2016

No Means No: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Mr. Collins, who annoys the dickens out of me pretty much every time he opens his mouth, has come to Hertfordshire to gain a wife. He wants to marry one of the Bennet daughters as he will one day inherit their family home and that would keep everything tidy and still within the Bennet family. In chapter 19, he has just proposed to Elizabeth:

"'You are too hasty, sir!" she cried. 'You forget that I have made no answer. Let me do it without further loss of time. Accept my thanks for the compliment you are paying me. I am very sensible of the honour of your proposals, but it is impossible for me to do otherwise than to decline them.' 
'I am not now to learn,' replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, 'that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second, or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.'"

She continues to reject Mr. Collins' proposals, eventually having to go to her parents to intervene. 

This exchange reminds me to Rochester's proposal to Jane in Jane Eyre, except that Jane does indeed want to marry Rochester, she just continues to say no because she worries about what society expects of her. 

This is a little different though. Mr. Collins is dense. He doesn't understand what is happening, he doesn't understand women, and most of all, he doesn't understand Elizabeth. His reply is rife with misogynistic phrases and ideals. First he calls Elizabeth "young" which can be attributed to a difference in age, but I believe that "young" here also connotes inexperienced and perhaps a bit of the backwardness of  country living. Collins doesn't expect Elizabeth to understand things because she hasn't "seen" the world as he has. She doesn't live in a large city, she hasn't traveled, and she certainly doesn't have the ear of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, as Mr. Collins has. He talks as if this is all a game and he has figured out the trick to winning: "it is usual with young ladies to reject and addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept." So, you're saying that women say no to men who they really want to marry because it is some sort of game? And then, in the end, he states that he will "lead" Elizabeth to the altar soon. "Lead"! He is going to "lead" her, like some domesticated animal? Like a horse, or a donkey? Can't she choose whom she wants to marry and the proper time to get married? Can't Elizabeth choose to reject your advances? Are men the only ones that can make decisions? I chuckled a couple times while reading this and the subsequent chapter because Elizabeth is so smart and quick witted, and Collins just doesn't understand. He is so sexist that it is comical. 

But it doesn't end there. Every year, we hear about college-aged men, in trouble with the law, because of things they do (or say) within their fraternities. Not all fraternities are populated with sexist, beer-guzzling jerks, but some are, and they are the ones that appear in the news. Every year we see these news-stories about women who said no, but these men didn't care. It's not that they misinterpreted, it's not that they didn't hear; these men want something and they will go to all lengths to get it. I don't see Mr. Collins playing beer-pong and wearing a visor sideways on his head, but his behavior in these chapters is a sign and type of things to come. Collins is the literary equivalent. He doesn't want to hear no, so he chooses not to. He will have Elizabeth and no other option is viable.

I feel like Collins would wear a visor like this if he were living in our era.
I haven't finished the novel, so I don't know if Collins redeems himself later on, but at this point, it is not looking good.

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