One major benefit of going back through every post while updating the site — other than, you know, updating the site! — was getting reacquainted with past posts. And I took note when I wrote that I wanted to follow up on some thing, to close the loop on specific questions or ideas. This post is one of those threads I wanted to follow up.
From clergyman to librarian:
Back in Feb. 2014, I analyzed the 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice, in which the character of the “odious Mr. Collins” was changed from a clergyman in Jane Austen’s original novel to a librarian. And not just any librarian! Lady Catherine de Burgh’s personal librarian.
Here’s how he introduces himself in the 1940 film version (and how I reacted):
Back then, I researched a couple of theories about why his character was changed, which included both the height of the “screwball comedy” genre in cinema at the time, as well as the influence of the “Hays Code” that forbid “ridicule of the clergy.”
I also took note back then of the screenwriters and their source material:
[T]he film’s writing credits are lengthy: Aldous Huxley (!) and Jane Murfin are credited as co-authors of the screenplay, which also borrowed heavily from Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts. I haven’t obtained a copy of the play — and only bits of it are available to read for free online — to check if the character of Mr. Collins was turned into a librarian in Jerome’s version. I doubt it, but it would be nice to close that loop.
When I revisited that original 2014 post during my “revisiting favorite posts” series in Summer 2016, I continued to note that:
Rereading this post made me remember that I still need to get a copy of Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization of the play entitled Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, in order to close the loop on whether or not Collins’s profession is changed in the play this film is based on.
So. I finally requested a copy of Helen Jerome’s 1934 dramatization, Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts, through my college library’s InterLibrary Loan (ILL) service.
I now have my answer:
No doubt about it, Mr. Collins is a clergyman in this play.
Clergyman clues in the play:
Here’s how he is introduced, when Mr. Bennet breaks the news that Mr. Collins is coming to visit, in Act I:
ELIZABETH [to her father, Mr. Bennet]: Can he [Mr. Collins] be a sensible man, sir?
LYDIA: He sounds to me a bit of an ass.
MRS. BENNET: Now, Lydia, my love, is that a nice way to speak of a clergyman?
LYDIA: I thought I heard you refer to him as an odious creature a few minutes ago, Mama?
And moments later, Mr. Collins arrives:
MR. BENNET: Mrs. Bennet, let me present the Reverend Mr. Collins, our esteemed cousin.
Act II drops in bits about Mr. Collins’s professional duties as a clergyman. For instance, Mrs. Bennet mentions that:
I suppose our dear cousin Collins is preparing his sermon for Sunday.
And right before he proposes to Elizabeth, Collins confirms that:
I had two sermons to prepare in readiness for my return to my parish.
It only took 5 years to get around to answering that question… but better late than never, right? 😉
Given the fact that this 1934 dramatization, which, along with the source novel, provided the foundation for the 1940 film version — and that this play still highlighted Mr. Collins as a man of the cloth — I think it makes sense that the screenwriters changed (or were forced to change?) Mr. Collins’s profession due to the main reasons I outlined previously. I think it likely that the Hays Code played a more prominent role in this character switch. As I noted back in 2014:
The occupational change seems to serve the absurd and ridiculous qualities of Mr. Collins — we do not pause and wonder at a bumbling librarian, whereas we might be offended at a bumbling clergyman.
Mentions of libraries in the play:
While I had the play on hand, I noted when/if libraries were mentioned at all, as Mr. Bennet uses his own private library as a retreat of sorts — from his wife, assuredly, but also probably from the world? — in the novel. And yes, both Mr. Bennet’s private library AND Lady Catherine de Burgh’s private library are mentioned.
In Act I, Scene I, right at the beginning of the play:
MR. BENNET: Hill! [a manservant] Take this book to the library! I don’t want Miss Lydia to read it.
In Act II, Scene I, Mr. Bennet’s library is also used as a retreat for Elizabeth, during Mr. Collins’s marriage proposal to her:
ELIZABETH: No, Mr. Collins, I will as plainly as possible say no. (She crosses to library door. He tries to get to door. She brushes him aside.) And you need not try to scamper in front of me again. This time I am going out by this door. (Exits R.)
Later, in Act II, Scene III, we get the only mention of Lady Catherine’s private library, during this brief exchange with Elizabeth:
LADY CATHERINE: Ah, you are writing letters, I see, Miss Bennet.
ELIZABETH: I was.
LADY CATHERINE: But why in this rom. We always write our letters in the library.
ELIZABETH: Yes, I know, Lady Catherine — But the library does not possess such a view — and I write with so much more inspiration when looking out on green trees and flowers.
In Act III, Scene I, the library is mentioned in the stage directions, when Lady Catherine is visiting Longbourn to try and intimidate Elizabeth before leaving in a huff:
LADY CATHERINE: I take no leave of you. I send no farewell message to your mother! Miss Bennet, I am seriously displeased.
(Mrs. Bennet comes in quickly from the library R. where she has probably tried to eavesdrop. Looking around room for Lady Catherine.)
Finally, in Act III, Scene II, Mr. Bennet’s library is again mentioned in stage directions, as Darcy makes his move (again) for Elizabeth’s hand. He knocks at the library door, which Elizabeth answers. She comes out of the library, and they sit on the sofa for the final proposal scene.
And last but not least, props! I really enjoyed that the play included lists of costumes and props at the end.
I’m assuming the following were included as props for the library:
- 1 hanging shelf (in two sections) is listed in the “Bric a brac, etc.” heading
- 70 leather bound books are listed in the “Small properties” heading
Did you enjoy this trip down memory lane? Have you seen the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice and ever wondered why Mr. Collins was a bumbling librarian, rather than this usual bumbling clergyman self? Please leave a comment and share!
- Jerome, Helen. Pride and Prejudice: A Sentimental Comedy in Three Acts. Samuel French, 1934.
- Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “‘Pride and Prejudice’ and librarians.” Reel Librarians, 18 Feb. 2014.
- Snoek-Brown, Jennifer. “Revisiting favorites | ‘Pride and Prejudice’ librarian, Feb. 18, 2014.” Reel Librarians, 24 Aug. 2016.