Category Archives: Caroline Bingley

Love and Marriage

I just read a thought-provoking question: Did Caroline Bingley love Mr. Darcy?

To me, the first part of this question is around the concept of Regency love. Lizzy and Mr. Darcy were rare for their day, in that they valued love and compatibility in a marriage.

For most in the characters in Pride and Prejudice, marriage is a transaction to which love has no relevance. The passion that we correlate with modern love wasn’t part of the equation.

So, do I think Miss Bingley “loved” Mr. Darcy, in the modern sense of the word? No. But I do think she loved what he could offer her. Wealth. Status. Security. Influence. Importance. And that was enough to constitute love in 19th century England.

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Damsel in distress

I recently read a description of Mr. Darcy as a rescuer, and that gave me a little pause. Since he wants no notice of his heroic deeds, it is easy to underestimate this part of his personality. But he does seem to be a rescuer, and usually unbidden.

He rescues Georgiana’s virtue from the clutches of Wickham and rescues the Bennet’s reputation and respectability by forcing Wickham to marry Lydia. In both cases, he is unbidden but very welcomed.

There are a lot of positive personality traits associated with someone who comes to the aid of others. Loyalty. Selflessness. Generosity. Responsibility. Tolerance. Darcy has many of these traits (perhaps tolerance to a lesser degree, though), and that is why he is so appealing to Elizabeth and to readers.

Yet, he also “rescues” Bingley from association with Jane and the Bennet family by whisking him off to London. In this case, his interference is both unbidden and unappreciated by Bingley (although Caroline appreciates it to a great degree!).

But there can also be downsides to rescuing personality. It could be construed as, “you need me,” or “I know what’s best for you.” These modern psychological concepts are a little difficult to apply to Regency England, where being both male and wealthy inherently gives you power and dominion over others. Nonetheless, I think these elements are interesting traits in Darcy’s personality.

Does a person like Darcy who rescues others feel burdened? Get exhausted from exerting so much energy for others? Become resentful that no one else can behave responsibly?

Darcy’s first proposal

Colin Firth has often said he is most proud of his performance as Lord Wessex in Shakespeare in Love. Recently, he said of this character: “I love the boredom of the vacant, mediocre man who has got everything, a huge amount of money, spoiled, and this kind of blithe, lazy cruelty that he has.” [The Australian, May 10, 2008]

Although the quote is about Lord Wessex, I think it resounds with Mr. Darcy as well. Before meeting Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy was a mediocre man. He executed his roles as a landowner and a brother well. But he didn’t really care about people, other than his sister, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Bingley. He didn’t seem to be fond of many other people (including Lady Catherine, his cousin Anne, or even Miss Bingley), and usually was outright disdainful. I think he was a bit bored, vacant, blithe and lazy, like Lord Wessex.

I often wonder what would have happened if Lizzy had accepted his first proposal at Rosings. If she had, I think he would have stayed on the same path of selfishness and pride. Their marriage probably wouldn’t have been very happy, because it wouldn’t have been based on mutual respect, esteem and honor. He would be the acknowledge superior in all things.

Only through her refusal, and his later attempts to win her regard, does he lose his selfishness and become a better man.

 

Money changes everything

Cyndi Lauper surmised that money changes everything. In Regency England, I’d say that money IS everything in the dating world. Almost 200 years later, I’d say that is probably still the case.  At least Regency England was straightfoward about their obsession with a persons’ financial status.

Almost all the relationships in Pride and Prejudice have a financial element. It is common knowledge how much yearly income Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy earn, and the size of Georgiana Darcy’s inheritance. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have the entail of Longbourn to worry about. Caroline Bingley is a social climber who ridicules anyone she considers of lower wealth and prestige. Lady Catherine has a compulsive need to show everyone how wealthy she is. Charlotte marries Mr. Collins for financial stability. Mr. Wickham pursues Miss King for her inheritance, and only marries Lydia when Mr. Darcy offers him a financial settlement. Financial situations are common knowledge and in the open.

And yet, money plays a much smaller role in the relationships that Jane Austen holds up as most admirable. Mr. Darcy’s wealth is, of course, well known, but neither of them speak directly of money as reasons for their marriage. Indeed, Elizabeth turns down his first proposal despite the material comfort it would provide for her and her entire family. Even Jane is relatively low key about Mr. Bingley’s wealth.

Jane Austen’s most admirable characters don’t discount the importance of wealth and financial security. But, at the same time, they don’t hold it to be the sole and most important component of life and love.

 

Kindly Meant?

I have long been confused on the conversation between Caroline Bingley and Lizzy at the Netherfield Ball. At this point in the story, Caroline knows that Mr. Darcy admires Lizzy’s “fine eyes,” but I also think she seriously doubts that Mr. Darcy would marry so far beneath his social position. So I would say that she has some vague feelings of jealousy toward Lizzy, but hasn’t yet zeroed in with her wrath and cutting comments.

It is also surprising to me that Caroline Bingley knows of the ill will between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. Even though she is sketchy in the details, it is surprising to me that she has any knowledge at all. Given how tight-lipped Darcy wanted to be in the matter, it’s hard to imagine that he would have told her personally. Jane Austen later says that Bingley was quite ignorant of the circumstances between Darcy and Wickham, so Caroline would not have heard from Bingley.

Nevertheless, Caroline has some information on the history between Darcy and Wickham. Caroline hears that Lizzy has an affinity for Wickham, and (despite her civil disdain) warns Lizzy not to trust everything that Wickham says. Why?  I can’t figure it out. Caroline herself has nothing to lose if Lizzy falls in love with Wickham. In fact, one would think that Caroline Bingley would WANT Lizzy’s affections directed any anyone else, so that they aren’t directed at Darcy.

Could it really be that Caroline’s intentions truly were kindly meant!?

 

Masters of Disguise

Most of us wear disguises. We figure out ways to make ourselves seem smarter. More attractive. More wealthy. More intelligent. Just better somehow.

Most of the characters in Pride and Prejudice wear disguises, and much of the irony in Jane Austen’s writing is shown when a character’s words are in direct contrast to their actions and disguises.

Lady Catherine disguises herself as a woman of accomplishments– she says she the best natural taste in music and owns the finest instruments, yet doesn’t even know how to play. Mr. Collins disguises himself as a scholarly and charitable man of the cloth, but is more focused on collecting tithes and casting judgements.  Caroline Bingley looks down her nose at the Bennet’s poor connections, yet she herself is the daughter of a tradesman.

Mr. Darcy disguises himself very little, mostly because he has no need of disguises himself.  He already has extreme wealth and superior intelligence. He doesn’t crave attention or a wide circle of friends and acquaintances.

Simply put, as Colonel Fitwilliam comments, he will not give himself the trouble.

 

A good sense of humor

In today’s world of dating and romance, a good sense of humor is considered highly desirable. It wasn’t necessarily the same two hundred years ago. Manners, matrimony and class structure were all serious business.

Therefore, laughter was not held in very high regard. Wit and humor were seen as flights of folly. There are several very interesting scenes of laughter in Pride and Prejudice, and in most cases they point to a personality flaw. 

Lydia laughs at the surprise her family will feel when they hear of her running off with Wickham. When she thinks of signing her name as Lydia Wickham, she says, “What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing.” Mr. Bennet’s disdain comes to mind when he says, “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?” Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst laugh heartily at the society in Meryton and the Gardiners residing in Cheapside, but it is a laughter of condescension and spite.

But Lizzy’s love of a good laugh is depicted much differently. She is as quick to laugh at herself, and her good humor highlights the liveliness of her mind and the fineness of her eyes. Mr. Darcy in particular is drawn to her laughter, as it indicates an intimacy with her that he craves. “Her lively, sportive manner of talking” and “open pleasantry” demonstrates her deep affection.