Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: Ch. 13

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Chapter 13

"I hope, my deard," said Mr. Bennet to his wife, as they were at breakfast the next morning, "that you have ordered a good dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party."

"Who do you mean, my dear? I know of nobody that is coming, I am sure, unless Charlotte Lucas should happen to call in—and I hope my dinners are good enough for her. I do not believe she often sees such at home."

"The person of whom I speak is a gentleman, and a stranger."

Mrs. Bennet's eyes sparkled. "A gentleman and a stranger! It is Mr. Bingley, I am sure! Well, I am sure I shall be extremely glad to see Mr. Bingley. But—good Lord! how unlucky! There is not a bit of fishh to be got to-day. Lydia, my love, ring the bell—I must speak to Hill this moment."

"It is not Mr. Bingley," said her husband; "it is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life."

This roused a general astonishment; and he had the pleasure of being eagerly questioned by his wife and his five daughters at once.

After amusing himself some time with their curiosity, he thus explained:

"About a month ago I received this letter; and about a fortnight ago I answered it, for I thought it a case of some delicacy, and requiring early attention. It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases."

"Oh! my dear," cried his wife, "I cannot bear to hear that mentioned. Pray do not talk of that odious man. I do think it is the hardest thing in the world, that your estate should be entailed away from your own children; and I am sure, if I had been you, I should have tried long ago to do something or other about it."

Jane and Elizabeth tried to explain to her the nature of an entail. They had often attempted to do it before, but it was a subject on which Mrs. Bennet was beyond the reach of reason, and she continued to rail bitterly against the cruelty of settling an estate away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared anything about.

"It certainly is a most iniquitousw affair," said Mr. Bennet, "and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself."

"No, that I am sure I shall not; and I think it is very impertinent of him to write to you at all, and very hypocritical. I hate such false friends. Why could he not keep on quarreling with you, as his father did before him?"

"Why, indeed; he does seem to have had some filial scruples on that head, as you will hear."

"Hunsford, near Westerham, Kent, 15th October.

"Dear Sird,—

"The disagreement subsistingw between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him, I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with anyone with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.—'There, Mrs. Bennet.'—My mind, however, is now made up on the subject, for having received ordinationw at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronagew of the Right Honourableh Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferredw me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myselfw with grateful respect towards her ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive-branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends—but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o'clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se'ennightw following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergymanh is engaged to do the duty of the day.—I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,

X [d] my dear

The two remain after twenty-three years of marriage on affectionate terms compared with many other couples in Austen's novels.

X [h] bit of fish

Custom & Law

Dinners were multiple courses that included fish, fowl, lamb and/or beef.

X [w] iniquitous

A Biblically-resonant word for wicked; unjust. Mr. Bennet enjoys elevating the situation to epic proportions with Collins as a sort of Iago. But in reality for his daughters and wife the consequences are huge.

X [d] "Dear Sir

Writing & Reading

Austen's creation of Collins' letter, the style the antithesis of hers, is a humbling lesson in how not to write.

She is likely to have composed First Impressions, P&P's precursor, in the popular 18th-c. genre known as the epistolary novel, and so the entire novel would have been letters. Samuel Richardson's …

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X [w] subsisting

Writing & Reading

A reader of the time would register the verb as unusual to describe a disagreement, and a more intellectually inclined reader would have known that the verb was used predominantly in a theological context. The word's rarified uses and general obsolescence signal the writer's pretentiousness. 

X [w] ordination


Ordained; confirmed as an Anglican or Church of England minister. (Search Religion.)

X [w] patronage


She has as part of her estate the power to appoint or "prefer" in the sense of give preference to an ordained Anglican clergyman of her own choosing when a vacancy occurs in a parish that is a part of her estate. Her choice needs to be confirmed by the bishop, but that is largely a formality.

X [h] Right Honourable

Custom & Law

The designation indicates that Lady Catherine is a member of the peerage (Search) below the rank of marquess (an earl, viscount, or baron). The title is her own. Her husband—"Sir" rather than "Lord"—was either a baronet or knight and thus not a member of the peerage. From what we know of her, she certainly relished the precedence.

X [w] preferred


"Preferred me" is here a formal term meaning that she has given him the living (benefice or preferment) over which she has the power of appointment. 

X [w] demean myself


Humble himself. He takes pride in this, having persuaded himself to believe groveling is a Christian virtue, an extension of humility. He is a supreme lickspittle and confuses humility (what he is not) with self-abasement that is in the service of his self-advancement.

It's worth noting that the clergy are not immune to Austen's satire. 

X [w] Saturday se'ennight

Daily Life

This is Monday. He's used his position as heir to invite himself for a week from the coming Saturday, a "se'ennight," or for twelve days. A long time to have Collins as a house-guest.

X [h] some other clergyman


He will hire a curate at a fraction of what he's making to substitute for him on occasion.

The availability of curates, "perpetual curates," enabled vicars and rectors, such as Austen's father, to hold more than one living at the same time. While the vicar was the formally appointed clergyman of the parish, they in fact could be absent entirely (and often the parishes were miles if not leagues apart, making it impossible to serve both). Owing to their poverty, the curates themselves were often demoralized.