Chapters 19 to 23 – The Proposal
The next day following the Netherfield Ball, Mr. Collins decides to make his
play for Elizabeth. He is totally confident that he will be successful, for who could refuse such a suitor who has so much to offer.
He asks permission from Mrs. Bennett to speak to Elizabeth alone. She already suspects what is going to happen.
The discourse between these two includes some of the most humorous moments
in the story. Collins conducts the proposal as if it is a business transaction.
He points out his own virtues, his association with the De Bourgh family, and Elizabeth’s own insecurity. He advises Elizabeth that he has been spurred on by his patron who charged him to acquire a wife who is a person that is “active, useful, not brought up high, but able to make a small income go a good way.”
Elizabeth refuses Collins proposal, but he is undaunted and merely thinks
she is being coy. He tells her that it is unthinkable for her to refuse him, but in plain terms Elizabeth says, “You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would
make you so. Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation.”
Finally, Collins realizes that his courtship of Elizabeth is over.
Mrs. Bennett is appalled by this situation saying that she will never see
Elizabeth is summoned to her father’s retreat in the library and he says, “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must 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.”
Charlotte Lucas visits the Bennett household and learns of the breakdown of
Mr. Collins suit of Elizabeth. She begins spending more time with Collins, and in a few days they are engaged to be married.
Elizabeth is annoyed at her friend accepting marriage with someone she
doesn’t love, but Charlotte has accepted Collins’ proposal in order to obtain security.
Jane receives a letter from Caroline Bingley advising her that the whole
Netherfield household have moved to London for the winter.
Jane is greatly disappointed. It is evident that Miss Georgiana Darcy is spending time with Bingley. The news makes Jane despondent, whereas Elizabeth is angry, and suspects Darcy has a role in this development.
The reader should study Collins’ proposal to Elizabeth. It typifies
his character, and highlights his absurd speech and manners.
Elizabeth has to control herself in order to avoid laughing out loud in
front of him. She has strong views, one being that a woman should marry for love and not security, hence her disappointment in Charlotte who doesn’t mind being Collins’ second choice as she is only interested
in obtaining security.
The 19th century readership will quite easily be able to sympathize with Charlotte, for most marriages were merely a business arrangement, and Elizabeth’s view is idealistic and not in the least practical. The reader hopes that the heroine will find love and happiness, one of the main ways in which Austen keeps the reader’s attention.