Turning thoughts into words can be a frustrating experience, but writing’s not all torment, torn hair, and mountains of comfort food.
For me, a particular joy comes from creating scenes involving the intellectual giant, expert dancer, and balm to the souls of the Hunsford parish that is Mr William Collins. (Did you know he enjoys the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh?)
One reason for this secret pleasure is the fascinating nature that Jane Austen gave the character, particularly his curious mix of personality traits.
Foolish yet calculating. Vain yet seeking approval. And for all his obsequious unpleasantness, he also seems to genuinely want to help the Bennets by marrying one of their daughters (Chapter 15 in Pride and Prejudice):
This was his plan of amends—of atonement—for inheriting their father’s estate; and he thought it an excellent one, full of eligibility and suitableness, and excessively generous and disinterested on his own part.
Albeit he only meant to choose one of the daughters…
…if he found them as handsome and amiable as they were represented by common report.
So perhaps not entirely motivated by altruism, then.
Another reason is that Mr Collins is a priceless gift from Jane Austen’s pen when it comes to humour. Aided and abetted, admittedly, by the actors (David Bamber and Tom Hollander) and writers from the 1995 and 2005* screen adaptations.
Any appearance by Mr Collins offers a glorious (vegetable?) buffet of opportunity. Especially for some wry observations by Mr Bennet in, for example, Cake and Courtship:
Within minutes of his arrival, Mr Collins described himself as a tool of God. I could well believe it. The good Lord had clearly sent him to test our fortitude.
A third reason only occurred to me recently and may not be a healthy one.
In the Charlotte Collins Mysteries, I do try and show the better side of Mr Collins. But some scenes seem to “punish” him…perhaps through a scathing remark from Lady Catherine or a conversation with Charlotte that exposes his total lack of self-awareness.
Why this wish to “punish” him?
For all our amusement at Mr Collins, consider his letter to Mr Bennet in the original Pride & Prejudice (Chapter 48) after learning of the whole Lydia/Wickham business:
…the death of your daughter would have been a blessing in comparison of this.”
And it is the more to be lamented, because there is reason to suppose…that this licentiousness of behaviour in your daughter has proceeded from a faulty degree of indulgence.
How kind of you to say so, Mr Collins.
And then, of course, he makes it about himself:
And this consideration leads me moreover to reflect, with augmented satisfaction, on a certain event of last November; for had it been otherwise, I must have been involved in all your sorrow and disgrace.
I imagine Mr Collins thought he was being sympathetic. In Port and Proposals, I give Mr Bennet’s reaction:
In expressing his sympathies, Mr Collins succeeded only in losing the few I had for him…when faced by indecision, some clergymen suggest we ask ourselves what our Lord Jesus Christ would do in such a situation. I determined to always consider what Mr Collins would do and then undertake quite the opposite.
The heartless nature of Mr Collins’s missive has stayed with me and perhaps underpins why I take such joy in making him, for example, the unwitting “victim” of his wife’s superior intelligence.
On that topic, I once promised the next Charlotte Collins novella would appear in early 2022. I have checked the calendar, and (cough) this now seems unlikely. But the good news is that the book is finished, titled, and with a cover.
Here’s a snippet:
The rector had returned from his own morning excursion and already spent a good hour ruminating on the evils of gluttony for his next sermon; the task left him so bereft of energy that he was forced to consume half a sponge cake before continuing.
(I can’t help myself.)
Work and other stresses prevent publication this year, but early 2023 seems like a promise I can actually fulfil!
*It is a great consolation to me, living in a country where there is no concept of the Regency, that I’m part of a global community that shall forever smile quietly at any and all mention of boiled potatoes.