Is Caroline Bingley green with envy as she notices Mr. Darcy’s attentions to Elizabeth Bennet? Does Emma Woodhouse wish unspeakable horrors on Harriet Smith because of Harriet’s crush on Mr. Knightley? After Willoughby, does Marianne covet Elinor’s more sensible behaviour? We could go on for ages, but it’s only for this month so don’t miss a post!
Who is Jane Austen’s most jealous character? There are plenty to choose from. In Pride and Prejudice, Caroline Bingley is almost bursting with jealousy of Lizzy, as she perceives Darcy’s liking for her. Darcy, more quietly, doubtless has some moments – and painful they must be – when he perceives Lizzy’s early preference for Wickham. Mrs. Bennet is constitutionally envious of any girl who succeeds in marrying before her own daughters, and can scarcely forgive Charlotte for making off with Mr. Collins.
In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon is jealous of Willoughby, gloomily contemplating Marianne’s passion for him. Lucy Steele is jealous of Elinor, knowing very well that Edward has fallen in love with her – and Elinor, though little given to jealousy herself, endures the misery of Edward’s engagement with Lucy. Like her sister, Marianne’s is not a jealous nature, but she is in dreadful agony on seeing Willoughby with his soon-to-be fiancée. One of Jane Austen’s most amusing moments is when she portrays the jealousies of the couples in the end of this novel:
“[Lucy and Robert] settled in town, received very liberal assistance from Mrs. Ferrars, were on the best terms imaginable with the Dashwoods, and setting aside the jealousies and ill-will continually subsisting between Fanny and Lucy, in which their husbands of course took a part, as well as the frequent domestic disagreements between Robert and Lucy themselves, nothing could exceed the harmony in which they all lived together.”
Mansfield Park is filled with jealousy. In Fanny’s breast is hopeless jealousy of Mary Crawford; Mr. Rushworth is jealous of the “undersized” Mr. Crawford who steals away his wife; Edmund is jealous of the effect of the world on Mary; and Maria and Julia are jealous rivals for Mr. Crawford.
Emma has plenty of jealousy too – Jane Fairfax suffers torments of jealousy over Frank Churchill’s flirtation with Emma. Mr. Knightley too is deeply jealous of what he fears is Emma’s feeling for Frank, and Emma, of course, is always jealous of Jane Fairfax’s superiority – and suffers another kind of jealousy when she briefly believes Harriet is preferred by Mr. Knightley.
In Persuasion there is no lack of jealousy, for Anne has to endure the sight of her beloved Captain Wentworth amusing himself with Louisa Musgrove, while he is jealous of her apparent involvement with her cousin Mr. Elliot, and Mary Musgrove is envious of everyone. Northanger Abbey is perhaps Austen’s least jealous book. Catherine and Henry Tilney’s course of love runs fairly smoothly, impeded only by General Tilney’s avarice and John Thorpe’s scheming, but the young, simple hearted Catherine and clever, amusing Mr. Tilney, are too absorbed in each other to experience any bitter envy.
So it was that Austen created a veritable gallery of jealousy, and when she has the Gardiners observe Darcy and Elizabeth with “the full conviction that one of them at least knew what it was to love,” we may conclude that Jane Austen herself knew all about how it felt to be jealous. We may imagine what may have been jealous moments in her own life – was she jealous of her older brothers for their education and experience of the world; of her sister for finding love and being engaged; of romantic situations where she was left to wither on the vine as a spinster; or of other novelists for selling more? We can only guess.
As for Jane Austen’s most jealous character, I have no hesitation at naming the one whom I believe most readers see as the most perfect, the most amusing portrait of jealousy, and that is the character I named first: Caroline Bingley. She is so blatant, so shameless, so unconscious of how obvious she is, with her constant outrageous remarks to and about Lizzy, and her hilariously ludicrous, clumsy attempts to win Darcy for herself. She is so deliciously absurd, I think it is time to visit her again. Here goes:
Miss Bingley pulled her needleful of silk pettishly through the turban she was trimming. “Do you not think it unconscionable, Louisa, for the gentlemen to be ignoring us in this way?”
Mrs. Hurst, whose tatting lay in her lap, unattended, leaned back languidly on the sofa, and gazed out the window of Netherfield’s front sitting-room, where she could see the sweep and the road down which any carriage or horsemen would appear.
“It is very odd indeed, Caroline. Four days in succession that Charles and Darcy have spent entirely at Longbourn. Do they not realise how tiresome it is for their sisters, to be left quite alone?”
Miss Bingley glanced over at Mr. Hurst, who was fast asleep on the sofa by the fire, snoring gently, a silk handkerchief over his face.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Hurst impatiently, “do not consider him; he is no company at all. But Charles forgets his duty. His engagement is no reason for him to turn away from his sisters. He ought to include us, to pay more attention to us than ever, in my opinion.”
“No one has come near us this whole week,” Miss Bingley complained. “Any one who wishes to call upon the family will seek out Charles at Longbourn. It is as good as his home now.”
“I could not have believed it of him. Charles, so gentle, so affectionate, to be so wrapped up in that simpering, low bred Jane Bennet! I knew we should never have encouraged his attentions to her, Caroline. You see how it has ended.”
“We only encouraged him just at the first. He was so struck by her pretty face, it was necessary to be agreeable. You know that as soon as ever we saw the danger, we, and Darcy, acted, and did all we could to keep them apart. But it was too late and too little. Now we pay the price, in having the mortification of Jane Bennet as our sister-in-law.”
“Pretty preferment,” snorted Mrs. Hurst, idly examining her barely-begun tatting work. “We will be having her impossible mother, and vulgar connections, in the house every day.”
“They are none of them here now. We are left as alone as if we were in Coventry. I am sure I hope Charles will be very happy in his choice, and it must be admitted that Jane Bennet is good-natured enough for such an empty-headed creature; but it is a most unfortunate choice, most.”
Mr. Hurst roused a little, and looked with one eye out from under his handkerchief. “’Pon my word, she is handsome, however,” he drawled. “You don’t see a gel that handsome once a year. Fine figure too, tall and formed. Charles has got himself an armful.” And he covered his face up again and dozed back into a light snore. The sisters looked at each other with expressions of disgust.
“Confess it, Caroline, it is not Charles you are minding,” said Mrs. Hurst. “It is Darcy.”
“Darcy? Why should I worry about him? He is Charles’s friend, naturally he stays with him. No doubt they are out shooting. Mr. Bennet must be laying on every pleasure to keep Jane’s lucky catch in thrall, and Mrs. Bennet will be keeping her cook busy concocting delicacies to please the gentlemen’s palates.”
“Nonsense,” persisted Mrs. Hurst. “You know very well no such blandishments are needed. Charles is firmly in Jane Bennet’s net, for good and all. Even if there were no sport, and only indifferent food, his passion would not change. No, mark my words, it is Mr. Darcy the Bennets are aiming at now.”
Miss Bingley tossed aside her work and walked restlessly over to the bay window, twiddling its sash, and searching the russet October horizon for signs of life. “That cannot be, Louisa! Darcy has far too much pride. We can trust in that, at least, surely.”
Mrs. Hurst shook her head wisely, and the little yellow curls under her matron’s cap trembled a little. “I knew there was danger the moment he admired that girl’s fine eyes, Caroline, and so did you. I am afraid, quite afraid, to think what four days alone with that artful creature will produce. Lady Catherine was very alarmed, you know, about that girl’s designs.”
“Darcy to be brought down by such a little, scheming vixen as that! No, no, never! Impossible!”
“It is not impossible at all, it is exactly because he has never been susceptible to all the mamma’s daughters who have been dangled in front of him, that he will fall the harder. Mark my words, Caroline, you had better prepare yourself for a disappointment.”
“Louisa! How can you be so unfeeling. I am sure that Darcy appreciates who his truest friends are. His warm affection for Charles, must lead to his wishing to be part of our family…I am persuaded he will.”
“He has not persuaded you of that himself,” pursued Mrs. Hurst. “The truth is, he has shown his indifference. It would be far better for you, Caroline, if you would prepare yourself, so you will receive the news graciously. After all, you do not want to sever all ties to Pemberley, whoever is its mistress.”
Miss Bingley’s face grew long. “You are cruel, Louisa, cruel. There is not a symptom, not a shadow of an attachment between Darcy and…and that pert, little, sharp-nosed, big-eyed, calculating Miss Bennet!”
Her sister shrugged. “If you say so dear. I think you will see your folly.”
“It is not folly. Darcy has always been mine. I know it. You will see, Louisa. You are jealous, that is all. When I am mistress of Pemberley, you will be nothing, you will wait on me for charity. You – ”
Mrs. Hurst’s eyes darkened, but she only said, “Listen. There are the horses now.”
The sisters sat in silence for the time that it took for the horses to be stabled, and for Bingley and Darcy to come stamping in their boots into the sitting-room, their faces ruddy from the exercise, and with exalted expressions that would have announced great news, without a word being said.
“My dear sisters!” Charles exclaimed jovially. “You have such news to hear – oh, the happiest news in the world! A wedding.”
“We know about your wedding,” answered Miss Bingley calmly. “Have you and Jane settled your plans?”
“Indeed we have, Caroline, but more to the point, so has Darcy. He is to marry Miss Elizabeth Bennet. There’s for you! It is to be a double wedding. Now, is that not the happiest of news?”
Glancing at her sister’s white face as the blow was struck, Mrs. Hurst saw that she really could not speak, and she mustered up the necessary reply. “Many felicitations, Mr. Darcy,” she managed to say. “I am sure we wish you joy.”
“Yes, indeed,” echoed Miss Bingley faintly.
“There, Darcy! I told you the girls would rejoice, and dance at our two weddings. In November, at Longbourn church, and we will depart with our brides for Pemberley straight from the church door. Darcy has been telling me of an estate only thirty miles from there, that I must look into – most eligible place for miles around, not far from Nottingham. You will be happy, won’t you, to be settled upon our own estate at long last? It is within quite easy riding distance from Derbyshire.”
“My dear Charles, the very thing!” exclaimed Mrs. Hurst. Her husband, seeing all the benefit of being established in such a comfortable home, bestirred himself from the sofa, hauled himself upon his legs, and poured some of Mr. Bingley’s good wine to propose a toast.
They were very merry over the toasts, and jubilant, all but Miss Bingley, and the two gentlemen were far too happy to notice how quiet she was. Darcy did glance at her once or twice, surprised to hear none of her usual prattling abuse of his chosen lady; but as her new quietness was so preferable, he dismissed her from his mind and lifted a toast to his own bride, his dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.