Mr Collins’ profession:
Jane Austen and the Church

Mr Collins and Elizabeth, by C.E. Brock

2024 day Conference

JASA is delighted to invite members and other Jane Austen fans to our 2024 Day Conference. Here is all the information you need.

Saturday 11 May 2024

The Epping Club, 45 Rawson St, Epping

Members $120
Non-members $130

What to expect
The conference will have a range of presentations looking at different aspects of the clergy and the church in relation to Jane Austen. Morning tea and lunch will be provided.

The JASA Conference is a lovely opportunity to get to know other members and make new friends, while enjoying wonderful talks and further delving into Jane Austen’s rich and superb first published novel.

We have some fabulous speakers coming to instruct and enlighten us. Click on each name for more information about the speaker and their topic.

Brenda Cox: researcher

Brenda S. Cox has been researching the church in Jane Austen’s England for more than ten years. Her book, Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England, explores the church in Austen’s novels and in her world: the clergy, worship and music, challenges to the church, ways it impacted the world, and much more. She has presented on Austen and the church at a number of JASNA AGMs and regional meetings and at Regency Week in Alton, England. You can find her articles in Jane Austen’s Regency World and online at Persuasions On-Line; Jane Austen’s World; and Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen.

Brenda will be giving two talks at the conference.

Why Mr. Collins? The Church and Clergy in Jane Austen’s Novels

Jane Austen had a high regard for the church. Why, then, did she present Mr. Collins as a buffoon? Why was he so deferential to Lady Catherine? (He had good reasons.) Did he fail in his duties, as Edmund Bertram of Mansfield Park tells us some clergymen did? We’ll explore Mr. Collins’s words, actions, and character, including his marriage proposal, comparing him to Austen’s other clergymen, satirical cartoons of the time, and Anglican and Evangelical ideals.

‘Her Parish and Her Poultry’: The Lives of Clergymen’s Wives in Austen’s World

In Jane Austen’s novels, we meet clergymen’s wives ranging from practical Charlotte Collins of Pride and Prejudice to kind Mrs. Grant and stingy Mrs. Norris of Mansfield Park. Of course Jane Austen’s mother, and Jane’s dear friend Mrs. Lefroy, were clergymen’s wives. What were these women’s daily lives like, and what kind of women were they expected to be?

Scott Stephens: ABC journalist

Scott Stephens is the ABC’s Religion & Ethics online editor and the co-host, with Waleed Aly, of The Minefield on ABC Radio National. He has published extensively on moral philosophy, literature and democratic theory. He and Waleed Aly are also the authors of Uncivil Wars: How Contempt is Corroding Democracy (Quarterly Essay 87) (2022). He is editor of Justice and Hope: Essays, Lectures and Other Writings by Raimond Gaita (2023), and the co-editor and translator of two volumes of the selected writings of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, Interrogating the Real (2005) and The Universal Exception (2006).

Scott’s presentation is entitled ‘How could you be so unfeeling?’: Moral encounter and its counterfeits in Jane Austen’s later fiction.

Social hierarchies – structured as they are around wealth, rank and gender – constitute the medium in which significant encounters among the characters in Jane Austen’s fiction take place. These hierarchies threaten to disrupt moral encounters, or prevent them from happening in the first place, unless characters work against their grain.

For Austen, some clergy are in the thrall of ambition – such as Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Mr Elton in Emma (1815) – and therefore reproduce the morally corrosive conditions which forbid ‘rational conversation’, tenderness, reproof, and mutual intelligibility. Other clergy, however, characterised by an unfailing attentiveness – one thinks here primarily of Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park (1814) and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey (published in 1817, though written earlier) – defy those conditions and the conventions that undergird them, and are thereby placed by Austen in the same category as her unimpeachable moral exemplars: George Knightley in Emma, and (perhaps her greatest fictional creation) Anne Elliot in Persuasion (1817).

This suggests that, while certain characters may be somewhat more disposed to entering holy orders due to their literary, aesthetic and moral sensibilities, the clerical office in no way ensures the character of the man who holds it (any more than it does for George Eliot). Narratively speaking, for Austen, the clerical profession is therefore no different from a commission in the Royal Navy: it is either ennobled by the character of the man (Frederick Wentworth, say, or Captain Harville), or it is merely a means of acquiring wealth and rank.

More important, for Austen, than professions are the locations or mediums which either make moral encounter between characters possible (at the tops of hills, for example, or in letters when speech has broken down) or which prove suffocatingly superficial and too overwhelmed by vanity and ambition (preeminently, in the town of Bath).

Anne Harbers: art historian

Anne Harbers has been a member of JASA for over 30 years and has presented on Silver in the time of Jane Austen and The Grand Tour for JASA. As an art historian, she has also presented on paintings, art and dress, and interior design in the time of the Regency. She completed her Master’s degree in Art History from University of Sydney in 2014.

Her presentation is entitled Have you seen the new Vicar ? Visual representations of Clergy in the time of Jane Austen.

In the times of Jane Austen, clergy were often depicted both in formal portraits but also in satirical cartoons, reflecting the roles they played in differing levels of society. This talk will look at images of real and imagined Clergy – respected, ridiculed and sometimes, to be admired.

Roslyn Russell: historian and museum consultant

Roslyn Russell is a historian and museum consultant, and has been a Jane Austen fan since her undergraduate years at the University of Sydney. Roslyn holds a doctorate in English literature from the University of New South Wales for her thesis, ‘Travel writers, museums and reflections of empire 1770-1901’. Her museum career took her to the island of Barbados from 2006 to 2017, and this experience inspired her 2014 novel, Maria Returns: Barbados to Mansfield Park. She is also the author of Literary Links: Celebrating the literary relationship between Australia and Britain (Allen & Unwin, 1997).

Her presentation is entitled Presence and absence: sermons and devotional literature in Jane Austen’s Novels.

Jane Austen’s novels are replete with clergymen characters: Mr Collins, Dr Grant, Henry Tilney, Mr Elton, Edmund Bertram and Edward Ferrars are all either practising clergy or about to enter the Church as a calling. Nevertheless, although preaching sermons is a core function of a clergyman, actual accounts in the novels of sermonising by these characters are very rare. Similarly, their engagement with the devotional literature of the era – at least in the novelistic context – is minimal. This paper examines this phenomenon in Austen’s novels, and her portrayal of clergymen characters and their activities in this sphere. It contrasts her treatment of this subject with works by a later nineteenth-century novelist, Anthony Trollope; and with those of Barbara Pym, a twentieth-century novelist who has been described as a modern version of Jane Austen.


Conference registration has now closed. Please use the contact form if you need to reach us about this event.

Please use this form to request help or more information.
Jane Austen Society of Australia Inc