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Caroline Bingley is a minor antagonist who appears in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

She is the younger sister of Charles Bingley and Louisa Hurst, as well as the sister-in-law of Mr. Hurst and Jane Bennet Bingley.

Biography

Early Life

Caroline was born into a respectable family that resided in the north of England.[1] Her father made most of his money in trade, making the Bingleys part of the nouveau riche, or "new money". This would have been seen as inferior by many of the realm's great nobles and landed gentry, those who have inherited their wealth.

Due to her family's prosperity, she and her sister, Louisa, were most likely raised in luxury. They attended one of the first private seminaries in London. Each sister later came to have a respective fortune of £20,000, and Caroline hoped to catch the eye of Mr. Darcy, an eligible bachelor who was a dear friend of her brother's.

Arrival at Netherfield

Miss Bingley went with her brother, sister and brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, and Mr. Darcy to stay at Netherfield Park, the manor of which Mr. Bingley had taken possession. She first met the Bennet sisters at a public ball in Meryton. She only danced with Mr. Darcy, and he only danced with her and Louisa, earning him the ire of Mrs. Bennet and other matchmaking mothers.[2] She was informed that Mary Bennet was the most accomplished girl in the neighborhood.[2]

The next time Miss Bingley saw the Bennet women was when they came to call at Netherfield. Miss Bingley and her sister immediately took to the eldest Miss Bennet, Jane, who had very pleasing manners, setting her apart from her mother and her younger sisters.[3] Miss Bingley was shocked to learn that Mr. Darcy, the very man she had designs on, was interested in Elizabeth Bennet. She hid her shock and alarm by reminding Mr. Darcy of the relations he would have if he married her, and that the deplorable and unmannerly Mrs. Bennet would often be at Pemberley.[3]

Jane's Visit

"MY DEAR FRIEND, If you are not so compassionate as to dine today with Louisa and me, we shall be in danger of hating each other for the rest of our lives, for a whole day's tête-à-tête between two women can never end without a quarrel. Come as soon as you can on the receipt of this. My brother and the gentlemen are to dine with the officers."
—Caroline inviting her favorite Bennet sister to Netherfield[4]

Caroline and Louisa soon after invited Jane to dine with them at Netherfield, while Mr. Bingley was to dine elsewhere. Jane was forbidden to use the carriage and instead went on horseback, all due to the machinations of Mrs. Bennet to get her with Mr. Bingley.[4] Jane immediately caught a cold, and was invited to stay at Netherfield. Elizabeth went to join her sister at Netherfield, shocking Caroline and Louisa with the state of her dress from walking through mud.[4] Caroline took the time to needle Mr. Darcy about Elizabeth's ill-breeding. She was especially sure to mention Mr. Phillips, their uncle who is an attorney in Meryton, and Edward Gardiner, their uncle who lives near Cheapside—an unfashionable part of London.

Throughout the evening, she becomes a champion of whatever Mr. Darcy says, in order to get him to notice her.

"No one can be really esteemed accomplished, who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved."
—Caroline Bingley in staunch agreement with Mr. Darcy while also subtly recommending herself[5]

However, her attempts to criticize all yielded the opposite results of highlighting Elizabeth's positive qualities, and making Darcy acknowledge his true feelings over what was expected of him (in his own prejudiced opinion).

Departure from Netherfield

Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst became quite alarmed at the attraction growing between Mr. Bingley and the eldest Miss Bennet. Although they liked Jane better than her family, they really didn't want to be connected to the Bennets. They settled in London for the winter.[6] She later wrote to Jane about them planning to stay, purposely mentioning that she hoped Mr. Bingley would marry Mr. Darcy's sister, Georgiana.[7]

Jane went to stay with the Gardners in London, and visited the Bingleys at Grosvenor Street.[8] Miss Bingley received Jane, and disguised her displeasure by being overtly glad. She quickly dispelled any way to see Mr. Bingley, saying he was mostly in the company of Mr. Darcy, and that neither she nor Louisa saw much of him. Miss Bingley returned the visit three weeks later, to keep up propriety, and made no effort to conceal her disgust of Jane's abode or the company. She never extended another invitation to Jane after that, and the latter soon realized that she was being snubbed rudely.[9]

In between, Elizabeth found out that on going back to London, Darcy, Caroline, and Louisa all discovered their intents to dissuade Mr. Bingley from marrying Jane, and joint together in their efforts. It was also revealed that they concealed from Bingley that Jane was in London.[10]

Visit at Pemberley

"Pray, Miss Eliza, are not the ——shire militia removed from Meryton? They must be a great loss to YOUR family."
—Caroline Bingley insulting Elizabeth Bennet[11]

Miss Bingley visited Mr. Darcy's ancestral home Pemberley with her brother and sister in the summer. Elizabeth was touring Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, and visited Pemberley, at Mr. Darcy's invitation. Caroline was not happy to see Elizabeth at the manor, as she was still trying to get Mr. Darcy to like her enough to propose.[12] She and her sister were intentionally aloof towards Elizabeth and her aunt Gardiner when they visited, with Miss Bingley being exceedingly rude and uncultured, insulting Elizabeth's family directly.[12]

Later on, after Elizabeth left, Darcy refused to oblige or even tolerate Caroline's criticisms of Elizabeth. He even went as far as to tell her that he considered Elizabeth to be "one of the handsomest women of his acquaintance," which pained Caroline to the extent where she actually stopped her tirade.[13]

Mr. Bingley returned to Netherfield, and reunited with Jane, getting engaged to her. Though Miss Bingley sent a letter to Jane passing along her best wishes, Jane was no longer deceived. She gave respect to Caroline, but was no longer fooled by her outward appearance of politeness.[14] Caroline was upset by Darcy's and Elizabeth's marriage. Thinking better of it, as she wanted to be able to visit Pemberley in the future, she let go of her jealousy. She retained her original deferential attitude towards Darcy and Georgiana, and took care to treat Elizabeth with all politeness and respect.[15]

Physical description

Caroline was described to be a rather handsome young woman, with an elegant figure and an easy gait.

Personality and traits

Caroline and her sister, Louisa, shared numerous similarities in terms of personality: both were proud, conceited, and had a habit of spending more money than they ought to. They also love to associate with people of rank, and were particularly selective about whom they displayed their agreeable and humorous side to.

Caroline, in particular, is selfish, hypocritical, and two-faced, all negative qualities of which was fueled by her desire to win Mr. Darcy as her husband. She starts off professing a great friendliness for Jane Bennet, but later conspired with Louisa and Darcy to separate Jane and Charles when it became increasingly evident that her brother was truly in love with Jane and desired to marry her (she wanted her brother to marry Georgiana — Darcy's sister — instead, hoping that a match between Charles and Georgiana will make a match between herself and Darcy more likely). One of the reasons why she looked down on the Bennets was their connections to trade, which was, ironically, also the very source of her own family's wealth.

However, Caroline was still somewhat of a realist: though she was deeply mortified by Darcy's and Elizabeth's marriage, she was intelligent enough to accept that her initial cause was irrevocably lost, and she subsequently made amends for her previous rudeness towards Elizabeth (the new mistress of Pemberley) in order to retain what social benefits she could profit from an amiable association with the Darcy family.

Portrayals

  • In the 1995 mini-series, she was portrayed by Anna Chancellor.
  • In the 2005 adaptation, she was portrayed by Kelly Reilly.

Forms of address

  • Caroline - intimate friends and family
  • Miss Caroline Bingley - before Louisa married
  • Miss Bingley - after Louisa married

Notes and references

  1. Pride and Prejudice, Vol. I, Ch. 1
  2. 2.0 2.1 Vol. I, Ch. 3
  3. 3.0 3.1 Vol. I, Ch. 6
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Volume I, Chapter 7
  5. Volume I, Chapter 8
  6. Volume II, Chapter 1
  7. Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 21
  8. An extremely fashionable part of London
  9. P & P, Volume II, Chapter 3
  10. Volume II, Chapter 13
  11. Vol. III, Ch. 3(pg. 215; First Folio Society ed. 1996 reprint)
  12. 12.0 12.1 Volume III, Chapter 3
  13. Volume III, Chapter 4
  14. Volume III, Chapter 19
  15. Pride and Prejudice, Volume III, Epilogue

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