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Home » , » Discuss Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr. Collins as comic characters
Jane Austen was essentially a humorist and this humorous attitude is especially prominent in Pride and Prejudice. She exposes the foibles, illusions, self-contradictions and absurdities of human beings but never with cynicism. Rather she laughs good-humouredly at the foolish and disagreeable people. In Pride and Prejudice Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr. Collins are satirized by Jane Austen to provide much of the comic element in the novel.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh as a Comic Character:

Lady Catherine de Bourgh is almost a caricature. She represents in extreme form the same pride as Darcy and the humour arises from her insufferable self-importance  and her absurd assumption of superiority on grounds of mere rank and wealth.

She is absurd in her constant interference with the lives of other people. She regulates the lives of the people in her parish, examines their employment, looks at their work and advises them to do it differently, find faults with the arrangement of a furniture, or detects the housemaid in negligence. It is laughable that she accepts refreshments at Mr. Collin's place only to point out that the joints of meat are too large for their family. She is disagreeable too but almost comic in her snobbery when she invites Elizabeth to come to Rosings everyday and play on the piano-forte in the servant's room for "she would be in nobody's that part of the house." Ridiculous also are her attempts at match making, endeavouring to bring about an alliance between her sickly daughter and her nephew Darcy so that the two estates may be joined.

His disagreeableness is treated with a comic irony by Jane Austen. Thus, it is amusingly ironic that Lady Catherine's attempt to prevent the match between Darcy and Elizabeth ensures its materialization for she reports the outcome of this interview to Darcy who is encouraged to propose again. The humour of this situation can be seen from Elizabeth's remark, "Lady Catherine has been of infinite use, which ought to make her happy, for she loves to be of use". It is through the comic portrayal of Lady Catherine De Bourgh that Jane Austen throws into relief Darcy's own pride. The pride in excess in Lady Catherine makes her comic and also disagreeable. It is her insufferable and absurd self-importance that makes Darcy examine his own snobbish attitude and review the apparently mean connections of Elizabeth. Thus, Lady Catherine is important to the theme of pride and prejudice of the novel and she performs the important role of exposing to Darcy the absurdity of excessive pride.

Mr. Collins as a Comic Fool:

Collins is other comic character of the novel. Saintsbury infact describes Collins as a creature of the highest and most Shakespearean comedy. Much of the comedy in Collins' character is presented through his fawning servility towards Lady Catherine de Bourgh. A mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility ----- this odd mixture of qualities render him 'vastly stupid and vastly funny.'

The serious and solemn tone in which he catalogues the long list of Lady Catherine's golden deeds is indeed humorous. Lady Catherine had approved of his Sunday discourses, she had asked him twice to dine at the manor house of Rosings. Lady Catherine had asked him to make up a pool of Quadrille. Lady Catherine had even condescended to advise him to marry. It is absurd and ridiculous that Mr. Collins has come to Longbourn to find a suitable bride in order to please Lady Catherine. It is in his proposal to Elizabeth, that we come across one of the greatest comic scenes of the novel. His stupidity, pompousness conceit and clumsiness are all very much evident here and provide much humour. He lists his reasons for marriage : to set an example of matrimony in the parish, to add to his happiness, but mainly to please Lady Catherine. There is no mention indeed of love and his pompousness in equating Elizabeth's refusal to mere coyness only makes him appear as an insensible fool. He is absurd in giving Elizabeth his reasons why she cannot really refuse him and tells her that she will not have another offer of marriage. Mr. Collins is comical too, in his extreme formality and affectation of manners. His excessive compliments and profuse apologies make him amusing.

Mr. Collins's stupidity, his obsequiousness, his fawning servility, and extreme formality and affected manners all make him an immortal comic character. His fawning servility to Lady Catherine contrasts with Elizabeth's defiance of Lady Catherine. As he likes to be useful to Lady Catherine, so he is useful in the plot; he provides a place for Elizabeth to visit, where she can observe Lady Catherine and see Darcy again. He draws out his "affable and condescending" patroness for Elizabeth's edification. And always he remains firm in the conviction of his importance and dignity, of his place at the center of universe, whether he is almost walking on air in contemplation of the advantage of Rosings or warning Elizabeth against a "precipitate closure" with Darcy's suit or offering his clerical opinion on Lydia and Wickham. Wherever he goes, whatever he does, he remains unshakably foolish and therefore comic.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr. Collins as comic characters

Thus, Mr. Collins is a comic figure: he is absurd because of the incongruity in his character. He panders to Lady Catherine's snobbishness and feels pride in associating himself with her but he is so obvious and naive in his efforts that we cannot but laugh at him.

Jane Austen gently parodies Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins thus, providing the comic element in Pride and Prejudice. But her humour is gentle. She laughs at the inconsistencies and absurdities she exposes but she accepts them as part of the variety of life and is never cynical.


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