Not long ago, Mary Patricia and I saw a movie based on the Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. The scenes in which Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet made us cringe with disgust.
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This is what Mr. Collins says in a boorish preamble:
"Almost as soon as I entered the house I singled you out as the companion of my future life. But before I am run away with by my feelings on this subject, perhaps it will advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying-and moreover for coming into Hertfordshire with the design of selecting a wife, as I certainly did."
Next he offers his reasons:
"My reasons for marrying are, first, that I think it a right thing for every clergyman in easy circumstances (like myself) to set the example of matrimony in his parish. Secondly, that I am convinced it will add very greatly to my happiness; and thirdly-which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier, that it is the particular advice and recommendation of the very noble lady whom I have the honour or calling patroness."
One can understand that Mr. Collins is a ridiculous character whose actions and speech are deliberately inserted in the novel to bring about the much needed comic relief. But Mr. Collins isn't joking-he is quite serious! And speaking of seriousness, we find that the most serious character of the entire cast, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, uses the same boorish and unromantic marriage proposal; a proposal even more despicable than that of the loathsome Mr. Collins.
How Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet
Again, a boorish preamble: "In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire you."
Next he offers his reasons.
The exact words may have been too painful for the readership of the times; and in good sense the author has the narrator to intimate them only. Instead the narrator tells us about Darcy's expectations:
"He [Mr. Darcy] concluded with representing to her the strength of that attachment which, in spite of all his endeavors, he had found impossible to conquer; and with expressing his hope that it would now be rewarded by her acceptance of his hand. As he said this, she could easily see that he had no doubt of a favourable answer. He spoke of apprehension and anxiety, but his countenance expressed real security."
When Elizabeth rebuffs him with a scathing speech of which the most memorable line is "...and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed to married," Mr. Darcy instead of making a graceful exit, insists by remarking on his superiority of status, his superiority of connections, and by the vulgarity of Elizabeth's family members.
Mr. Collins and Mr. Darcy's proposal were insults and affronts rather than honor and homage to the beloved. Nothing in their speech projects love but coldness and arrogance.
Although I was not quite eighteen years of age when I proposed, I instinctively knew that it is the man's role to woo the beloved and win her hand in a way that is warm and loving. The man's speech (proposal) I was sure would have to be clear and filled with 'you' and not with 'me' or 'I.'
How I proposed to Mary Patricia:
When we were in between classes Mary Patricia and I would meet either at the sun dial or by the sycamore tree in front of Lewisohn Hall. Without any experience in amorous proposals, and fearful that my nervousness would botch up what could be the most momentous occasion of my life, one afternoon sitting under the old tree I scribbled a few notes on an index card. Then as if under the spell of a divine force, and at the most propitious and enchanting moment, as we stood under the sycamore tree, this is what I read to her:
"Since we met, you've made me a better student, a better person: kinder and nobler. And I now have a burning desire to succeed in life; not because of me, not because of my family, but because I want you to think of me as a worthy person.
"If I always feel compelled to hold your hand and to put my arms around you, it is because I want to make sure you are human, that you aren't an angel or a goddess. I cannot imagine the rest of my life without you by my side, for you and your music are everything to me now: when I'm awake I think of you, when I sleep I dream of you, and in my dreams you are my hypnosis, my delirium, and my peace.
Having read my scribbling, and as I got down on one knee, I asked Mary Patricia:
"Will you marry me-will you marry this poor boy from the Andes who was born to love you forever?"
The writing techniques I employ in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual:
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