Caroline Bingley: Character Analysis in Pride and Prejudice

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      If the picture of Mary Bennet is caricature of coxcombry based on ill-digested learning, that of Caroline Bingley is an example of desperate jealousy. The difference between the two is that while Mary’s oddity is harmless, Miss Bingley’s evil nature hurts others, though it is defeated in the end. She makes her evil entry into the novel in the company of her brother when Mr. Bingley comes to Netherfield. The first impression made by her as well as her married sister Mrs. Hurst on the villagers in general is fairly favourable. They are pronounced to be ‘fine women with an air of decided fashion.’ They conduct themselves in a pleasing manner in company. Jane agrees with the others that Caroline is one of the sweetest of women. But such a verdict from Jane who cannot think ill of anybody cannot be taken to be authoritative. The truth is realized only by Elizabeth who is able to perceive pride and haughtiness underneath the polished exterior of Miss Bingley. The two seem to have an instinctive dislike for each other. Ultimately, Elizabeth’s assessment of the character of Miss Bingley proves to be correct.

      That Caroline Bingley’s refinement is only skin-deep is made evident soon after her introduction in the novel. Both she and her sister receive the Bennet's courteously at Netherfield, and they make a distinction between Jane and the other members of the family. Still, Elizabeth is able to note that there is an attitude of condescension on their part and that Miss Bingley is kind to Jane only for the sake of her brother. This general attitude of superiority and contempt for those she considers inferior to herself turns into positive malice when Miss Bingley realizes that Mr. Darcy is interested in Elizabeth. Her malice finds vent when the first compliment is paid by Darcy to Elizabeth. She senses a rival immediately and she spits venom in her question when she can wish him joy and in her compliment that Mr. Darcy ‘would have a charming mother-in-law.’

      Her hostility towards Elizabeth increases with the passage of time. She is shrewd enough to realize that Elizabeth would be a serious rival to her; but, her jealousy makes her adopt the wrong methods in drawing the attention of Mr. Darcy towards herself. Attacking Elizabeth is exactly what ought not to have been done. But it is this error that is committed by Miss Bingley, blinded by love. She misses no opportunity of passing derogatory remarks on Elizabeth, particularly when Mr. Darcy is by the side. When Elizabeth comes to Netherfield on foot in order to attend on Jane, Miss Bingley condemns her ‘shocking country manners and impudence,’ to rouse the dislike of Mr. Darcy against the other. She sneeringly asks him how Elizabeth’s eyes looked after her walk. Pat comes the reply of Darcy that they were vastly improved by the exercise.

      Caroline Bingley's positive attempts for winning the heart of Darcy are as contemptible as her attacks on her rival. She purposely stands by the side of Mr. Darcy while he writes a letter and passes various complimentary remarks. It is indeed a surprise that his replies of contempt have no effect on her, though she realizes her powerlessness. Disappointed in her attempt, she tries to prove her superiority over Elizabeth in the eyes of Mr. Darcy, by inviting her rival to take a walk with her in the room; for, she is sure that Elizabeth cannot walk as elegantly as she does. But Darcy makes it quite plain that he sees through her game and even her interest in the same book which he has in his hand does not make an impression on him. She resorts to the other method of vilifying Elizabeth by suggesting that the latter tries to win him by depreciating worth of her own sex. But Darcy gives the suitable reply for this assault also and Miss Bingley has no other satisfaction except that of maligning her rival. She grows positively afraid of Elizabeth’s presence at Netherfield and is relieved when Jane recovers from her illness and leaves for her home. She tries to prejudice Darcy again by pointing out to him the manners of Mrs. Bennet. She does not realize that Darcy is quite unlike her brother in such matters and cannot be led by the nose by the opinions of others.

      The sudden departure of Mr. Bingley first, and then of the entire party from Netherfield is attributed solely to Caroline Bingley by Elizabeth. This is not strictly true, as Elizabeth finds out later from Darcy. He had been prime mover in the matter. Still, Elizabeth judges Miss Bingley better than Jane who is sure that Caroline has nothing against her, and will not try to prevent the match between herself and Bingley. Jane learns the character of Miss Bingley in its true colours only in the course of her visit to London. Miss Bingley shows her want of breeding openly then. In fact, we have strong reason to believe that she pretends not to have received the letter of Jane intimating her arrival at London. Her later behaviour to Jane is of a piece with this deception and she makes it clear to the other that there is an impassable barrier between herself and Bingley. Jane is heart-broken and we hate the woman who is responsible for hurting such a tender heart. She decends to the level of creating the lie about love between her brother and Miss Darcy, in order to ‘cure’ Jane of her infatuation. We feel that Miss Bingley alone is responsible for this lie, though Darcy agrees with her, in general, that Jane is not suited for his friend.

      It is likely that Miss Bingley feels quite secure about herself and Darcy, after the departure of the family for London and the success in keeping Jane away from her brother. Here again, she shows herself completely ignorant of the character of Mr. Darcy. It is true that chance plays a part in bringing him and Elizabeth together again. Still, Darcy’s is a nature which cannot be guided by others and we will not be wrong in assuming that Miss Bingley’s attacks on her would have assisted the development of his love for Elizabeth. Completely ignorant of this fact, she continues her poisonous attacks against Elizabeth at Pemberley too. Ironically enough, she harms herself more than her rival by her reference to Wickham in the presence of Darcy and Georgiana. Her remarks act as a boomerang, recoiling on herself. Darcy’s admiration for Elizabeth increases in proportion to his contempt and dislike for Miss Bingley. Though he would not have taken such a woman as his partner in life in any case, he could not but have been conscious of the fact that real refinement does not depend on fortune and rank, by the vivid contrast between Elizabeth and the woman who is desperately trying to gain him for herself.

      While we hate Caroline Bingley for her venomous attacks against Elizabeth, we treat her with contempt on account of her reaction to the marriage between Darcy and her rival. If she had been a really spirited woman, she should have avoided the presence of the couple altogether. But we learn that she got over her anger and disappointment, ‘since she reserved her right of visiting Pemberley.’ She is exactly like Lady Catherine in this respect, who too condescends to visit the Darcy couple, though the shades of Pemberley had been polluted by the entry of Elizabeth into it. In fact, we have less respect for Miss Bingley than even for the old lady. Both are equally snobbish, equally rude, and equally selfish. But Lady Catherine is at least frank, though rudely frank. Miss Bingley stoops to deception which adds to our dislike of her. Shakespeare described jealousy as a green-eyed monster, feeding upon itself. Miss Bingley is a vivid example.

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