Bingley Revisited

Bingley Revisited

A Comparison

A man comes into a neighborhood where a woman lives. Financially, he would be a good marriage prospect. The man and the woman spend time together. The woman falls in love with the man. Many around the two of them think they will marry. The man suddenly leaves without making a commitment to marriage. It is later discovered that someone convinced the man that marrying the woman he had been spending time with was not in his best interests.

In Regency times, a man who deceived a woman by making her think she was likely to be his choice of a bride was dishonorable. That idea continued for a long time. The 1958 movie Indiscreet has a major plot point of Cary Grant not wanting to falsely raise Ingrid Bergman’s expectations about marriage.

This not only applies to marriage. In a job interview, if either a potential employer knows he will never hire a person or a potential employee knows he will not take the job, the interview should not take place. It is wrong to deceive someone, by wasting their time and efforts when there is no possibility of following through with what is sought, particularly in a high-stakes situation. I heard about an interview question about how to solve a certain problem and the interviewers were using that to get relatively free consulting with no intention of hiring anyone. I also heard of someone who would take job interviews to get travel expenses paid to cities he wanted to visit. I will not vouch for the truth of either story, since I don’t even remember my sources, but your reaction to them is proof enough of the social contract we all expect to be honored.

Now, back to Jane Austen. Take these two examples of the male/female interaction delineated above. If the man is Willoughby and the woman is Marianne Dashwood, we think of the man as dishonorable. Yet, he did say goodbye and did indicate he wasn’t likely to return within a year.

If the man is Bingley and the woman is Jane Bennet, he did not say goodbye and only his sister’s letters gave the information that he wasn’t returning. Considering that the letters implied Bingley was likely to marry Georgiana Darcy, it does not seem plausible that he knew the full content of the letter to Jane, or even knew the letter existed.

Admittedly, according to Darcy, the most important argument against the marriage was that Jane didn’t love Bingley. Bingley took Darcy’s word on that. But Bingley did know she liked him and that there was a general expectation of marriage. Surely, he knew Jane well enough to realize that his completely dropping her was not something she would take lightly. She wouldn’t respond like Emma when she learned Frank Churchill was engaged to someone else.

Bingley was partially redeemed in modern eyes by being motivated by the concern that Jane didn’t love him, rather than by monetary considerations. He also was redeemed by his returning to marry Jane. But if Elizabeth hadn’t met Darcy at Pemberley, would Bingley have returned? Possibly not.

Bingley was enough in love with Jane to consider marriage, and he does something that has to hurt her. Jane Austen makes a point of saying Bingley wasn’t stupid. He had to know Jane would be hurt, but he didn’t have the guts to come back to Hertfordshire and say goodbye.

When Willoughby left Marianne, he behaved better than Bingley did. Willoughby earned his status as a villain, not by his leaving Marianne, but by his behavior afterward, including his explanation to Elinor. He would apparently like her to live a life similar to Miss Bates rather than marry someone else. His behavior to Marianne in London was cruel.

There is another issue that shows Bingley’s character was not so stellar. At the infamous assembly, Darcy tells Bingley, “You know how I detest it [dancing], unless I am particularly acquainted with my partner.” Taking Darcy’s words to be true, what is Bingley doing by taking his guest to “entertainment” that he would not enjoy? Darcy arrived from London just a short time before the assembly. He couldn’t possibly know local women. Bingley took Darcy to an event he KNEW Darcy wouldn’t enjoy.

Darcy said in his letter, “I had often seen him [Bingley] in love before.” Had Bingley left a trail of broken hearts? He easily could have. Willoughby left a girl pregnant and that is certainly more serious. By that alone, he can be condemned. Willoughby’s offence, especially by modern eyes, is much more serious than Bingley’s. Willoughby’s place as a villain stands up.

Part of the difference between Bingley and Willoughby is shown not by their actions, but by the actions of Jane Bennet and Marianne Dashwood. Jane made a surface attempt to get on with her life. Or, to put it another way, just because she was miserable, she didn’t attempt to make everyone around her share it. Marianne’s behavior was designed to make everyone feel sorry for her, but that isn’t all that unusual in adolescents. Jane did have the advantage of being more mature.

I believe Jane Austen intended for us to like Bingley. Do you still like him? Why or why not?



26 Responses to Bingley Revisited

  1. I like Bingley, and I believe that Austen intends for us to like him.

    But I don’t trust him.

    I don’t trust his assertiveness in the face of his sisters’ regrettable behavior, somehow believing themselves above the Bennets when the Bennets are at least gentry while they are only one generation from trade themselves. They just have the money to appear more genteel than their behavior warrants. Bingley should have been far more firm with Caroline’s behavior toward Darcy, but he is ineffective.

    I don’t trust his leaving Jane (and the whole neighborhood) without a goodbye even though he only intended to be away for a short time and planned to return. He knows how conniving Caroline is (at least I would hope he has the measure of her character by now or we can add stupidity to the list of his flaws!) and should not have trusted her to communicate their plans to the Bennets. He could have written a goodbye letter to Mr. Bennet–and should have since he had an outstanding invitation with the Bennets that he should have written to refuse even if a certain date had not yet been settled.

    Bingley should have been able to gather that Jane cared for him, that she at least liked him if not loved him, after spending the little snatches of time with her allowed by Regency society. Even being in company with others, Bingley should have been able to ascertain something of Jane’s feelings, even if she were merely “smiling too much.”

    So what kind of husband would Bingley become? I prefer the JAFF stories in which he matures as a result of his suffering without Jane. He needs to mature and become a man worthy of Jane, and I would hope to see him become more assertive, more self-confident, and more insightful regarding human nature. I rather like JAFF stories in which Jane marries Colonel Fitzwilliam for there is a man who is assertive, worthy, and insightful–a man of action as well as of character. Perhaps he will have money settled upon him by a godparent, etc., which will allow him to marry as he chooses. 😉

    Such a thought-provoking post, Renata! Thank you!! 😀

    Susanne 🙂

    • I agree Bingley should have “been able to gather that Jane cared for him,” and realized he at least owed her the courtesy of some kind of closure. Basically, he ghosted her, and that was, under the circumstances, unkind.

      I’m glad you thought the post was thought-provoking.

    • I like when Jane marries Colonel Fitzwilliam as well. He seems more worthy to me. I’ve nothing against Bingley. He simply isn’t solid enough. Although, as you said, as authors, we can make him mature.

  2. I always like the JAFF stories where Jane either chooses someone else or she requires Bingley to jump through a few hoops to prove himself before she accepts him back. Bingley is just a little boy who needs to learn discipline — self-discipline and also how to discipline others before he has children of his own (his sisters would be a good place to start).

    Years ago, I read a FF epilogue (sorry, I have no idea what story it was) that had Elizabeth reflecting on her married life. Even though Elizabeth had more children and a larger household to manage, she knew her life had been easier than Jane’s. If Darcy discovered a problem with a servant or one of the children, he dealt with the issue himself. If Bingley discovered a problem with a servant or child, he told Jane about it and left Jane had to deal with the issue. It’s not always easy being married to a charming little boy!

    • Elizabeth may have depended on Darcy in the story you described, but I think she was better equipped to handle that type of problem than Jane was. Nevertheless, it is always nice to have a spouse one can depend on.

  3. Great comparison! I believe the major difference between the two is motive. Willoughby is selfish, period. Bingley, on the other hand, just seems to allow life’s current to take him where it will. Even Jane Austen noted that Bingley would be content to lease an estate and leave the purchase to the next generation. In the past, I might have agreed with the lack of confidence theory, however, he now comes across as … lazy might be too strong a word. Perhaps overly content in his situation? He is well pleased with all he sees and all he meets. His most pressing concerns seem to be finding entertainment and avoiding his sisters’ complaints. He allows Darcy to make, or rather direct, his major decisions, perhaps because he is still getting his footing in society, but wasn’t that something he discovered during his schooling? What I believe we can take away from Austen’s representation is 1) Bingley learned a major lesson from the dealings with Jane, and 2) Jane Bennet and marriage was most likely the making of him in the long run.

    Thank you for the interesting and spirited debates! I am certain Elizabeth and Darcy would have had great insights to share. 😉

  4. I ask for leniency when it comes to canon, since it has been too long now since I read the original which used to be sometimes more than once a year. There seem to be clues along the way that Bingley is notoriously given to snap decisions, changing his mind on a whim about where he will go or stay awhile. But I don’t know if Jane was there to hear that. (???) Elizabeth was, to be sure. I also had the thought that even though Bingley is a few years younger than Darcy, Darcy is far more mature than he is. Wasn’t he also supposed to be younger that his two sisters?

    Okay, that said; comparing B & D, would Darcy not have matured as much as he had if his father was still alive and he wasn’t guardian to his much younger sister? Well, I think perhaps not quite as much burdened but still don’t we all think he was by far the more responsible of the two? Bingley’s father is gone too, and he also has responsibilities at least to his fortune and it’s business of assuring it’s continued growth. And not to the extent Darcy has but also to a sister yet unmarried. But he is like a willow bending with every external wind from any direction, including his own so very youthful desires to have fun with as many ‘uncommonly pretty girls’ as possible. There were reasons he should’ve matured but he hasn’t. What made him so lacking in confidence? We never learn much about his parents, but we know his pernicious sisters dominate him to a large degree. And how many times have they seen him fall for another angel? Well, I really can’t stand the two witches, shudder, but in their minds with their goals of reaching higher society, if he’s going to fall for an angel every few months, why not encourage his desires when he comes around to falling for someone rich and connected to higher society?

    I’ve read so many P&P variations and continuations that feature the same Bingley, an even more shy and lacking in confidence Bingley, a much worse Bingley…either confused or downright damaged, and different outcomes for the usual (not every) marriage of Jane and Charles. But this is all fan fiction, not what Austen wrote. There’s a clue at the end of P&P coming out of the Bennets’ mouths about J&C being so amiable they would be taken advantage of by their servants coming from Mr. B., and then from Mrs. B. saying $5,000 a year!! (Basically who cares?) Or was that just in the movie? Well if the entire community was expecting Bingley to marry Jane given his actions, mightn’t they be a little resentful on Jane’s behalf, even after he comes back? In reality, I have my doubts about how long it might be before Jane witnesses Charles eyeing a pretty figure walking down the street. You know, after she’s pushed out a couple of kids.

    Willoughby? I don’t even like thinking about him much less thinking about a comparison to Bingley, now Wickham as a comparison, that makes me more interested. Thank you to J.W. for that thought! 😀

    Thanks Renata. Good discussion ideas, great historical context, and great post.

    • Thank you.

      The scene you described about the servants cheating Jane & Bingley is in P&P, Mr. Bennet said, “…You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.” If Mr. Bennet’s predictions are true, Jane and Charles will not have a HEA.

      I like to think Mr. Bennet meant it as a warning, not a prediction.

  5. I think we are supposed to like him but that we are supposed to see him as flawed for not having confidence in himself and relying too much on others. It’s because of his actions towards Jane though that I like when Jane is paired with someone else.

  6. Between his own immaturity, his naivete about his sister’s evil propensities and lies, and his lack of self-confidence, he is a pretty weak-willed bet as a husband. That said, I believe Jane Austen means for us to like him, but certainly to be aware of his weaknesses. The good news is that she shows him growing up, as she shows Darcy growing up. He is a villain due to foolishness, rather than intent, as Willoughby was when he did not respond properly to Marianne after going to London.

      • Ah ha! Now I didn’t think of that! Thank you Renata. Yes, Bingley did have the capability of changing and he does. And the willingness to change (for the better) is what makes Darcy the hero we love. And I’ll give Bingley some credit here, he must actually have felt stronger for Jane than his other ‘angels’ for him to go back after such a long time away and try again. Unless he was totally clueless, (I don’t think so) he would’ve had to really gather his courage to go back after leaving the way he did. And I agree with Bronwen Chisholm that Bingley’s marriage to Jane would be the making of him.

  7. I always considered Bingley to be weak of character. It’s all very well to have a jovial nature, but that doesn’t cover up the fact that he’s a follower. He’s following his father’s desire to be landed gentry, his sisters’ desires to raise themselves above their sphere and Darcy’s belief of Jane’s indifference (amongst other things). I bet his valet decides what he wears every morning and he never makes a decision unless someone else has told him it’s ok. In this day and age, he would need 57 likes on Facebook before he did anything! I’m always happier in P & P variations if Jane ends up with someone else as with the reference to him often being in love before, you might think that any love he did have for Jane would not be long lasting. He could likely be unfaithful and poor saintly Jane would be heartbroken. These are thoughts that have stayed with me ever since I first read P & P when I was 13 (many years ago) and long before variations were a thing or even different TV or film adaptions. I always thought Bingley was full of charm, not passion and he and Jane would have a bit of a boring marriage. He’s one of those people everybody likes, but you wouldn’t truly trust him because he needs propping up. You’d invite him to a dinner or ball, but not to be your second should you find yourself in a duel. However, everyone has different opinions and this is what makes the world go round. And also why there are infinite ways of reimagining P & P and why we’ll never be short on different variations to read 🙂

  8. I think she intended for us to like him. I think he just lacked a little confidence in himself.

  9. It seems Bingley likes the idea of ‘being in love’ since he finds a new angel in every port. If he hadn’t told us he didn’t read much, I would suspect he reads romance novels and then practices what he has read. Yeah, that’s our Bingley… an angel in every port. He is living the life of a wealthy gentleman and enjoying every moment. They probably had a hard life as their father scratched out a living for them. Now that they have wealth, and he doesn’t have to work he has time to play and play he does. That money is in the funds and making enough to live on. They also have a small claim to status as they exit trade and their connections with Darcy certainly help. He’s just a boy in mans’ clothing. He simply does not think what his actions are doing to a girl, her family, or the opinions of a community in the wake of the angels he has left behind. Has no one held him accountable before? Where are the angry fathers and mothers? If this is his pattern… why doesn’t Darcy tell him. I am more angry than ever at his lackadaisical attitude. He knows he walked away.

    Willoughby loves ’em and leaves ’em… [deliberately walks away] and with a child. We don’t know if this is the one and only child he has left behind or if there are others. He probably doesn’t even know. He didn’t even leave his directions for the poor girl [Brandon’s ward]. That sounds like a pattern of behavior. He is living his life depending on an inheritance from his relation to bale him out of mismanagement. I suppose he is a gentleman Wickham.

    Interesting post and a comparison I probably wouldn’t have considered.

    • I think your post highlighted the major difference between Willoughby and Bingley. Willoughby went into the relationship with the intention of walking away. Bingley does not have his exit planned.

      I will give Willoughby credit for not knowing Brandon’s daughter was pregnant, but he had to be aware it was possible.

  10. I do like Bingley, however, he does have some flaws that could cause problems in his marriage. For one thing, he relied too much on Darcy and his experience. Darcy, though, may have fostered that by not encouraging Bingley to stand more on his own two feet. Bingley also had his family working against him. They were not happy with Jane or the rest of the Bennets and tried to run Bingley’s life rather than supporting him. Also, Bingley’s father had wanted his family to become landed gentry, and Bingley was trying to live up to his father’s dream. Whether it was his dream or not remains to be seen. I think he was an amiable, nice guy who needed a little bit more backbone. As to his falling in love frequently, part of that may have been due to the fact that he seemed to like everyone. And, let’s face it. He liked women. That could have caused a major problem in his marriage if he let it. Basically, Bingley is just a good guy…flawed, and making mistakes like so many of us, but very likable.

    • I believe Jane Austen intended him to be likable Also, I believe his relying on Darcy’s advice was reasonable, because Darcy had his best interests at heart. I like your point about his liking women would potentially be a major problem in his marriage.

  11. Oh dear, I never thought of comparing Bingley to Willoughby.

    I always thought Bingley’s action were due to his lack of confidence.

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