The Good (Or not so good) Intentions of Caroline Bingley

The Good (Or not so good) Intentions of Caroline Bingley

Recently, on an Austen fan site, members were contemplating the motivations of Caroline Bingley, sister of Charles Bingley in “Pride And Prejudice.” Caroline gives advice to Elizabeth Bennett regarding the intentions of her newly-found friend George Wickham.  Why did Caroline try and explain to Elizabeth the relationship between Darcy and Wickham? Was it an attempt to defend Darcy, who has been her life-long friend, and who it is implied she has romantic feelings for, or did she have a honest concern for Elizabeth’s feelings? When Elizabeth tells Caroline that she will make her own decisions about Wickham, Caroline tells her “Excuse my interference.  It was kindly meant.”

Some say her intentions were good and sincere.  “Nobody is all bad,” said one contributor.  “She is genuinely calling Lizzie out for her misunderstanding of the situation.  Caroline might be mean, but she’s straight up in this situation.”  Another said this showed that Austen created in Caroline a two dimensional character by showing that Caroline, in spite of her natural snarkiness, could be kind and humane.

Others disagreed.  One member said Caroline meant to mock Elizabeth’s attentions to Wickham.  She did this to show that Elizabeth’s poor taste in men reflected her lower class, therefore showing she could never be part of Darcy’s world.  And we all known one of the prevailing opinions is that Caroline sensed Darcy’s attraction to Elizabeth, and would do or say anything to make Elizabeth look bad.

I would say all of the above answers are correct.  While Caroline is mostly a foil for Elizabeth, Austen in her great skill as a maker of characters was able to create her to be more than just someone that is nasty and makes Elizabeth look better, as is the function of a typical foil. She showed that underneath her snobby and elitist demeanor, she was a young girl just like all the Bennett girls, who is unsure of herself, who has feelings of affection for a man that she cannot act on, and is just coming into an understanding of her world.  When Caroline tells Elizabeth her comment was meant kindly, Caroline sees herself in Elizabeth.  Deep down, she feels jilted and ignored by Darcy, and she doesn’t wish to see another girl hurt.

My favorite Caroline Bingley on film is in the 1995 version, and is played by actress Anna Chancellor.  Ms. Chancellor’s performance shows Caroline’s hauntiness is really a way for Caroline to hide her insecurities.  Her facial expressions are often stoic, but every now and then we see her countenance turn sad and reflective, and we see her pain and disappointment.  She, like all of Austen’s women, is ultimately human.

Let’s keep this going? What and who is Caroline Bingley to you? Who is your favorite film version of Caroline and why?




7 Responses to The Good (Or not so good) Intentions of Caroline Bingley

  1. If you want haughty… you can’t beat Anna Chancellor. If you want snooty… Kelly Reilly [2005 movie] delivers in spades. When she [as Caroline] and Elizabeth were circling Darcy, she nearly snorted… that was the best. I love that scene as she tried to make fun of Elizabeth and not realizing that she had failed miserably. It is always hard to portray a person’s intent in a scene. This demonstrates the genius of Austen. Great post and one that really makes us think. Blessings!

  2. Caroline is what the modern world would call a “suck up” to Darcy and all those of polite society she wants to impress. She is wealthy (although tainted by the stench of trade), attractive, motivated, well-educated in the ways of women in Society, mean, arrogant, offensive, cunning, and ambitious. On the other hand, she is sly, unscrupulous, critical and conniving. Caroline is an unmarried woman with a very handsome ?20,000 inheritance from her father. Being both very conscious and anxious to forget that their money was earned in trade, she aspires to the higher levels of aristocracy through marriage to Darcy and looks down upon those still associated with business. She is “hot” for Darcy, or, rather we should say, hot for his position in Society, his connections, and his wealth, displaying her tendency to be both shallow and haughty. If she could land Darcy, the world would open to her in a way the ugly stepsisters marrying Prince Charming would do. She fawns on his every word and gesture. Only Darcy’s opinions are worth copying. Miss Bingley’s interest and flirtatious attitude towards Mr Darcy is a source of HUMOUR in the novel; particularly when she takes a book just because it is the second volume of his and exclaims ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’

    She could also be called a “frenenemy.” She possesses this fantasy that she will marry Darcy and Bingley will marry Georgiana, thus shedding the image of a toading Cit. She and her sister do everything within their power to separate Bingley from Jane (who also has ties to trade and would do nothing to improve their status in Society), despite Mr. Bennet being of the gentry. Remember Bennet married into trade also. The Bingleys are actually arguably lower class than the Bennets. Mr Bennet is a gentleman as he has land which is worked for money (even though we know that his financial situation is not ideal). The Bingleys are part of the nouveau rich as they have earned their wealth through trade and not inheritance of land.

    • It’s an interesting point that Caroline is actually beneath Elizabeth in status. I think Austen masks this fact by having the Bennetts behave in a manner contrary to the stereotype of how someone from the landed gentry should act, particular Mrs. Bennett and Lydia. Caroline seems to think the Bennetts are beneath the Bingleys simply because the Bennet girls went without a governess and were not greatly accomplished as many girls in the gentry were. But none of this matters in the end. Love prevails over status!!

      • As I read your comment it struck me that Caroline was somewhat in the same position as Mrs. Bennet. A lady raised in trade marrying a landed gentleman that elevated her status/station. Caroline’s advantage over Mrs. Bennet was her schooling in what was expected in higher society. Unlike Mrs. Bennet, Caroline would at least know how to raise her daughters in proper behavior/comportment/propriety. Mrs. Bennet did not have that advantage and was ignorant of social requirements for gentlewomen. She was not raised as a gentlewoman and therefore could not teach that to her girls. She could set a good table but not teach them proper behavior for higher society. That was one reason she didn’t see the need for a governess.

  3. To me she would probably be an enemy. I think too she was trying to make Elizabeth look lower class so Mr Darcy would come to her. I think Caroline is sly that

    • Agree with a Regina. When CB made the kindly meant comment to E, she was mocking E for preferring W over FD. Testament to JA’s storytelling that in this case, CB was right but for the wrong reasons.

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