*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
There is a fine line between confident and being full of it. While some of us recognize where that line is and try not to cross it, others are completely blind and cross that barrier without knowing it.
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins is full of it. He is awkward, obnoxious, a kiss ass and basically makes most readers toes curl in disgust. But he is also Mr. Bennet’s heir and set to inherit Longbourn one day.
From a practical perspective, a woman could do worse, especially in an era when her only option is marriage. He has a steady income from the church, is set to inherit a reasonably sized estate and has the patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. He may not be the smoothest or most charming of men, but who cares when you have a roof over your head, steady income and a husband who is loyal?
Yet Jane Austen knew better.
When one of her nieces, Fanny Knight was of an age to marry, her very wise aunt provided sane advice.
Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.
Mr. Collins knows that the most natural choice of a wife would be one of his cousins. He first sets his eyes on Jane, but is advised that she is soon to be engaged. Then he proposes to Elizabeth. The results are both comical and skin crawling.
When Elizabeth turns him down, Mr. Collins goes to the next best choice: Charlotte Lucas. With fewer choices available to her than Elizabeth, Charlotte says yes. Mr. Collins finally has a respectable wife he can introduce to his patroness. Content in his choices and lifestyle, Mr. Collins spends the rest of the book as he was when the reader met him: obnoxious, a kiss ass and full of it.
To sum it up: Not all characters grow or see the errors they have made over the course of the narrative. Some characters remain the same and are blind to how the other characters see them. Mr. Collins is one of those characters. While he is one of Austen’s most comical characters, he is a statement piece on how not to act. A writer’s job is to find the balance between comedy and drama, growth and stagnation and characters that audience loves and characters that the audience hates. That balance is one of the keys to success and keeping the reader hooked until they have turned to the last page.