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?