pride and obsequiousness
June 4, 2019 12:53 PM   Subscribe

THE PROCESS OF ADAPTING A NOVEL for film or television necessarily includes acts of character assassination as familiar names are ruthlessly cut for the sake of time or clarity. Yet one Jane Austen character survives in multiple adaptations in movies and on television. I am referring, of course, to the inimitable Mr. Collins, whose very flatness of character renders him an attractive canvas on which screenwriters, directors, and actors can distinguish themselves. For what is most striking about the Mr. Collinses in Pride and Prejudice screen adaptations is how divergent they are, with each taking up different facets of his character as presented in the novel. Each Collins character is a figure of ridicule in the adaptations, much as he is in the novel, but each Mr. Collins is also ridiculous in his own way. PhD candidate Mary M. Chan writes about adapting Mr. Collins for the Jane Austen Society of North America
posted by ChuraChura (28 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
I recently learned that my beloved Peter Cushing played Mr. Darcy in a P&P adaptation on BBC TV in 1952. And, as was often the case, there was no recording or kinescope made. Buggeration.

I read about a bunch of other adaptations, though, and was interested to learn that several early ones had Austen herself appear as a narrator, to talk us through any confusion created by necessary omissions. And many axed Mary and Kitty, who only exist to be embarrassing and symbolic of the family's lack of money and sons.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:07 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I've been reading a lot of classic lit that I missed in high school. Pride and Prejudice is the most recent book I finished. Collins struck me as the sort of man who would show up in a modern story about entitled parents. Obliviously pompous and entitled.

On a somewhat tangential note, I was left wondering about the passage where Collins and Charlotte are said to take leave of the Lucases to "make love". I'm quite certain that means something quite different than it does in modern day, but I'd love if someone in the hive can expound on the meaning of that phrase in the early 1800s.
posted by bfranklin at 1:23 PM on June 4


I was left wondering about the passage where Collins and Charlotte are said to take leave of the Lucases to "make love".

"Making love", prior to the twentieth century, meant courtship: compliments, conversation, and very light physical intimacy.
posted by jackbishop at 1:28 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


Came back after reading the article to say how much I enjoyed it. Thanks for posting!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:29 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


"Making love", prior to the twentieth century, meant courtship: compliments, conversation, and very light physical intimacy.

Even into the twentieth century. Many films from the 1930's use the term in this sense.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:31 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


Great article; well worth the read! The layout is a little off-putting, like Mr. Collins, but, unlike Mr. Collins, rewards the person who perseveres.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:34 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


the 2003 Mormon romantic comedy Pride and Prejudice

what
posted by poffin boffin at 1:40 PM on June 4 [8 favorites]


"Making love", prior to the twentieth century, meant courtship

and 'criminal conversation' generally meant adultery, just to be symmetrical.
posted by clew at 1:47 PM on June 4 [7 favorites]


Yep, Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy. The Early Aughts was a Mormon Cinema Boom.
posted by zinon at 1:48 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


There's a great scene in It's A Wonderful Life (1946) where George Bailey is trying very hard NOT to court Mary Hatch, and in a fit of pique she shouts up to her nosy mother "He's making violent love to me!"
posted by muddgirl at 2:10 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


I like how she points out that none of the adaptations match Austen's radical clarity. They feel compelled to pair people off, soften the nasty choices women have to make, and for that matter (though not mentioned) nearly always eliminate the brutal critique of Mr. Bennet's failures.
posted by tavella at 2:11 PM on June 4 [21 favorites]


and 'criminal conversation' generally meant adultery, just to be symmetrical.

And “intercourse” often meant a discussion.

Of course, in the nineteenth century, “to ejaculate” carried (along with its more usual meaning these days) the meaning of “to exclaim” or “to blurt.” Both Holmes and Watson frequently ejaculate in the Holmesian canon, as does a a fellow named Phelps who ejaculates three times during one story. As best I recollect, the only other character to do so is in “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” where one Mr. St. Clair ejaculates at his wife from a second-floor window.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:26 PM on June 4 [22 favorites]


As a follow-up: QI covers it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:29 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Once again I'd like to mention the use of Mr. Collins in the Pemberley Digital world (note: Lizzie Bennet Diaries and he also cameoed in Emma Approved) back in the day. Annoying and yet oddly endearing and sweet. Kudos to his actor.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:42 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


This was very interesting. I, too, was surprised to learn of the Mormon adaptation. The mind boggles.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 5:31 PM on June 4


Both Holmes and Watson frequently ejaculate in the Holmesian canon

Raise you hands, anyone who is surprised.

What a bunch of liars you are.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:36 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


I like how she points out that none of the adaptations match Austen's radical clarity. They feel compelled to pair people off, soften the nasty choices women have to make, and for that matter (though not mentioned) nearly always eliminate the brutal critique of Mr. Bennet's failures.

I read it for the first time recently and that's what surprised me. It's a black comedy, a bit like Catch 22, very funny but still set in an objectively horrific scenario where your choices are all terrible.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:12 PM on June 4 [10 favorites]


Ok now that I've read the article, I never gave much thought to Collins' hypocrisy before, maybe because I expect somewhat villainous clergymen to be hypocritical. I always thought it was interesting that nearly every character gets to bounce off Mr Collins and their reaction to him is very telling. I never minded that adaptations let Mary admire him because I think it reflects that Mary is a bit Collins-ish herself.

On a personal story, I hated my high school junior English teacher, which is a lot for me to say because I was a goody two shoes. We once had to write an essay based on two proposal scenes in isolation - Mr Collins' proposal to Elizabeth and some passionate proposal from a romance of the same era. He took points off my essay because of course any woman of the era would accept Mr Collins' "sensible" (vain and insulting) proposal... Had he never actually read the book?
posted by muddgirl at 10:31 PM on June 4 [7 favorites]


Of course, in the nineteenth century, “to ejaculate” carried (along with its more usual meaning these days) the meaning of “to exclaim” or “to blurt.” Both Holmes and Watson frequently ejaculate in the Holmesian canon, as does a a fellow named Phelps who ejaculates three times during one story. As best I recollect, the only other character to do so is in “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” where one Mr. St. Clair ejaculates at his wife from a second-floor window.

This deserves it‘s own FPP.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:34 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


I've seen all these versions (yes, even the Mormon one) and the article makes some great points, particularly the last one about Charlotte's pregnancy, which I never picked up on from novel to film.

I like how she points out that none of the adaptations match Austen's radical clarity. They feel compelled to pair people off, soften the nasty choices women have to make, and for that matter (though not mentioned) nearly always eliminate the brutal critique of Mr. Bennet's failures.

I find the slight variations of Mr. Bennet fascinating between the 1995 and 2005 versions. In the 1995 version, he ridicules Collins to his face, though Collins is oblivious of it. He is very much a smartass and thoroughly enjoys throwing shade and embarrassing people publicly, which is what Darcy was referring to when he writes to Lizzie and mentions her Dad's occasional "total want of propriety".

In the 2005 version, that dinnertable mocking of Collins is transfreed from Mr. Bennet to Lizzie. Sutherland ends up doing a much kinder version of Mr. Bennet (and, as I recall, Darcy's line criticising Mr. Bennet is not in this version). The 2005 version is a much more romantic story and it wouldn't fit for Mr. Bennet to not be as sweet as he is, particularly in his last scene with Lizzie (which always gets to me every time I see it).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:03 AM on June 5 [9 favorites]


This conversation has spurred me to reread P&P, as it has been quite a long time since I did. I'm really enjoying the dynamic between Elizabeth and Charlotte this time around. Especially after chapters of Elizabeth being all "oh, the torment of being courted by Mr. Collins! Gosh, Charlotte is so self-sacrificing to distract him", and then we switch viewpoints and Charlotte is all "I have a plan, and I'm executing it. I don't want to be stuck in my father's house for the rest of my life, or worse living on uncertain charity." And then Elizabeth goes on about how really how can they ever be true friends again, since Charlotte has no proper self-respect, and then Elizabeth promptly spends weeks with Charlotte, who has already carefully arranged her new life so that she has to deal with her husband the minimum amount of time, and is really enjoying being queen of her own demesne.

There's really more of Emma in Elizabeth then I had ever really thought about.
posted by tavella at 5:11 PM on June 5 [5 favorites]


He took points off my essay because of course any woman of the era would accept Mr Collins' "sensible" (vain and insulting) proposal

At least it saved you the trouble of liking him a great deal.
posted by harriet vane at 6:24 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


This is a great paper. I also hadn't ever picked up on how adaptations omit Charlotte's pregnancy, and that's a really interesting point.

I remember reading P&P for the first time as a teenager and getting to the "death of your daughter" part. I'd been eye-rolling and laughing off Mr. Collins as a silly obstacle, horrifying mostly in his ridiculousness, but that was soberingly dark.

(Also, I think "She would never marry Mr. Collins" as part of a professional bio is A+++.)
posted by mixedmetaphors at 7:52 PM on June 7


nearly always eliminate the brutal critique of Mr. Bennet's failures.

Yeah, I think a lot of readers miss this too, which is how it ends up disappearing in the adaptations. Mr. Bennett's response to his longterm family predicament never really rises above "Oh, well, I guess all my daughters will end up in the workhouse after I'm dead, how droll." Mrs. Bennett may be absurd (and unsympathetically presented), but at least she has an intent to not meekly submit to penury; what's more, her plan actually works, despite her constant self-sabotage.
posted by jackbishop at 9:22 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


My memory is that the 2005 film is one of the few that at least somewhat got this, that Mrs. Bennet is right and Mr. Bennet is wrong, despite their relative levels of charm.
posted by tavella at 9:58 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure preferring the ``death of your daughter'' is evidence of hypocrisy at that point -- I think that's a consistent belief with everything a clergyman in his church would claim as a virtue, and a consistent opinion with the rest of Collins' opinions. (Cf. The Prospect Before Her on how Protestant pre-Romantic societies did not have paths to redemption for sexually incontinent women. Great book in general.)

It's surely evidence of Collins' valuing cruelty above family bonds, which would be a dangerous thing to marry.
posted by clew at 10:06 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Years ago, I saw a video mashup of the dinner at Longbourn scene where they replaced the shots of Mr. Collins with clips of Barnabas Collins from House of Dark Shadows, but damned if I can find a copy of it now.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:05 PM on June 8


I was left wondering about the passage where Collins and Charlotte are said to take leave of the Lucases to "make love".

Also, from Mr. Bennet’s description of Wickham:
“He is as fine a fellow as ever I saw. He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all.”
posted by mbrubeck at 4:52 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


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