Category Archives: Charles Bingley

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!?


A more gentleman like manner

Jane Austen presents very few men who are gentlemen in all senses of the word. Some men, like Mr. Bingley, Mr. Gardiner, or Colonel Fitzwilliam, have impeccable manners but do not own land. Others, like our Mr. Darcy, own land but don’t demonstrate the modesty, grace and poise of gentleman-like behavior.

Mr. Darcy is born a gentleman, but it takes him eight and twenty years (and the love of a woman worthy of being pleased) to adopt all the manners of a true gentleman.

Jane Austen’s most complete gentleman is Mr. Knightley of Emma. Knightley dances with Harriet Smith after she is slighted by Mr. Elton, whereas Darcy refuses to dance and give consequence to ladies slighted by other men. Knightley does not tolerate Emma’s insolence toward Miss Bates, whereas Darcy behaves condescendingly toward all of Meryton society. Knightley strives to put people of all classes at ease, whereas Darcy continually gives offense.

Mr. Knightley encourages Emma to be a better person. Elizabeth encourages Mr. Darcy a timeless lesson “most advantageous” — that humility, kindness, and respect do indeed make a complete gentleman.


Ode to the wingman

In the world of dating and seduction, a wingman plays a vital role — he helps an eligible male socialize and interact with eligible females. The wingman may also occupy less attractive female companions, so that the friend can focus his attentions on the prized target.

The wingman existed long before the popular Coors Light ad. Jane Austen, in fact, introduces Mr. Darcy as a wingman. We meet Mr. Bingley first, and only learn of Mr. Darcy as the friend Bingley has dragged to the assembly in Meryton.

Mr. Darcy is really a horrible wingman (of course, Mr. Hurst is worse. Poor Bingley!). Darcy’s pride, conceit, and inability/refusal to converse with strangers cause him to fail Bingley miserably. Rather than helping Bingley along, Darcy distracts Bingley from Jane rebuffs his suggestions to socialize. More wallflower than wingman!

Darcy’s failure as a wingman is required for the story line — he needs to create that poor first impression. “She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

But poor Mr. Bingley would have been much better served with someone else as his wingman. It’s really rather amazing that Mr. Bingley was successful at the assembly, weighed down by Darcy, Caroline, and the Hursts. Not a wingman in sight for our Bingley! Perhaps he should have befriended Colonel Fitzwilliam instead.