Tag 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.

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.

 

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Caroline Bingley reminds me of the saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come and sit next to me!” We all love some gossip, and fall prey to petty put-downs. But Miss Bingley is a master at the craft.

She is a wonderfully entertaining character, even if you wouldn’t want her as a friend or confidante. Kind of like the alpha-female Regina George in the movie Mean Girls.

I love the irony of Caroline Bingley the best. Consider her following comments and actions:

  • She is the daughter of a nouveau riche man of trade, yet she acts as though she is a duchess moving in the first circles of society.
  • Her remarks on Hertfordshire society, “The insipidity, and yet the noise — the nothingness, and yet the self-importance of all these people!” actually speak more to her own personality.
  • She calls Jane a dear friend, saying, “I have an excessive regard for Jane Bennet; she is really a very sweet girl,” but does everthing in her power to keep her at arms length.
  • She accuses Elizabeth of being the kind of lady who recommends themselves “to the other sex by undervaluing their own,” when that is exactly what she does herself.

Mr. Darcy’s observation that Lizzy occassionally enjoys “professing opinions which in fact are not your own” might be more aptly applied to Caroline Bingley.

 

He’s just not that into you

Earth to Caroline Bingley. Hello? Do you copy?

You can fawn, strut, prance and flatter all you want. Mr. Darcy is just not that into you. He’ll never tell you that he’s not interested. But he’s not. Here’s how you can tell:

Maybe He Doesn’t Want to Ruin the Friendship
Darcy is friends with your brother. He’s not really friends with you. Exhibit A: True friendship between a man and a woman wasn’t really possible in 1811. (Some say it’s never possible, but it certainly ain’t possible in 1811. It’s hard to be friends if you can never be alone together.) Exhibit B: He doesn’t seek out your company– he only endures it when you’re with Bingley and the Hursts. Exhibit C. He regularly disagrees with or dismisses anything you have to say. Not good signs.

Maybe He’s Intimidated by Me
You are overbearing, condescending, petty, and even downright mean. But I don’t think Darcy is intimidated by you. Remember, he is pretty arrogant and proud himself. I don’t think the word intimidated has ever entered his vocabulary.

Maybe He Wants to Take It Slow
Any slower, and he’d be in reverse. As in running away! Darcy didn’t just meet Bingley and he didn’t just meet you. If he wanted to marry you, you’d already know. He’s not taking it slow. It’s really a no. As in no way. Never. Nuh-uh.

I am sorry to pain you, Miss Bingley-but there it is. He’s just not that into you.