I have a confession to make: I am not excessively fond of Caroline Bingley.
I’ve thought about her a lot lately, as there seem to be increasing numbers of fanfic stories that feature her as their central character. I must admit, it is hard for me to read these. I find Caroline incredibly annoying and envy anybody with the writing talent to make her into a likeable, sympathetic character. To my fellow authors who dare to take on this domestic diva: you rock!!! I finally decided to take a closer look at her character and discover why so many people enjoy writing and/or reading about this vapid personality. In the process, I discovered again the genius of Jane Austen.
First, let’s do a little compare and contrast. Caroline is clearly set up as Elizabeth’s counterpart, so I decided to make a list of the characteristics of both women. They are both single and they are close to the same age. (We know that because Caroline is Bingley’s younger sister, and he is twenty three.) Beyond that, there are mostly sharp differences:
- Gentleman’s daughter
- Comes from southern England (Hertfordshire)
- Had a haphazard education
- Has poor financial prospects
- Not particularly accomplished
- Readily argues with Darcy
- Avoids interfering with her friend’s lives and decisions (i.e., Charlotte Lucas)
- Frankly speaks her mind
- Tactful (unless she’s provoked)
- Forms sincere attachments to others
- Pays little attention to rank
- Does not put herself forward with gentlemen- waits for them to approach her
- Peacemaker when possible (Think incident with Georgiana at Pemberley)
- Tradesman’s daughter
- From the north of England (Scarborough)
- Attended finishing school
- Financially well set
- Highly accomplished
- Tends to echo whatever Darcy says
- Tries to manipulate friends, family and acquaintances
- Fakes friendship with some people
- Sneers at others
- Obsessed with rank
- Accomplished lady
- Very forward- all but asks Darcy if he has his eye on her
- Likes to cause trouble (think incident with Georgiana at Pemberley)
Quite a contrast, isn’t it? Did Austen plot all of these opposites out, or did they just come out of her pen without a lot of forethought? Caroline is drawn so true to life that I suspect Austen probably knew many Carolines in her lifetime!
Caroline does provide some comic relief, which prevents her from being a totally detestable character. It’s funny to read about her machinations to get Darcy to notice her, which always fall flat. Remember this scene?
“I remember, when we first knew her in Hertfordshire, how amazed we all were to find that she was a reputed beauty; and I particularly recollect your saying one night, after they had been dining at Netherfield, ‘SHE a beauty! I should as soon call her mother a wit.’ But afterwards she seemed to improve on you, and I believe you thought her rather pretty at one time.”
“Yes,” replied Darcy, who could contain himself no longer, “but THAT was only when I first saw her, for it is many months since I have considered her as one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance.”
He then went away, and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself.
Interestingly, Elizabeth and Caroline both exhibit Darcy’s twin faults of pride and prejudice. The difference is that Darcy and Elizabeth show a capacity to learn from their mistakes and overcome their faults, but Caroline does not. She doesn’t even see her own faults, let alone try to learn from them. She regrets her mistakes only because of the effect they might have on her in the future, such as losing her chance to spend time at Pemberley after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. This crucial difference between the two women shows us, as the readers, that Darcy and Elizabeth are going to make a match. Caroline looks perfect for Darcy, on paper, but it is Elizabeth who is his ideal counterpart in every way.
So there it is-the genius of Jane Austen. She created a secondary character who shows how perfectly the hero and heroine go together, and she does it with humor, creating a personality we all recognize in real life. Caroline Bingley is the perfect opposite for the perfect character in one of the world’s most perfect books.
What do you think? Do you love Caroline Bingley, or is she one of those characters you love to hate? What is your favorite Caroline Bingley moment? Tell me in your comments below!