The Austen Interviews #1 – An Interview with Miss Caroline Bingley
[Originally posted 03/26/2011]
JACK CALDWELL – Hello, everyone—Jack Caldwell here. For this edition of The Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles, I’m pleased to interview one of the most controversial characters in Jane Austen canon. Let’s have a warm Austen Authors welcome for the lady ladies love to hate, from Pride and Prejudice—Miss Caroline Bingley.
JC – Thank you, Miss Bingley. May I call you Caroline?
CB – No, you certainly may not.
JC – O-kay. Miss Bingley, may I say you look lovely in that ivory gown.
CB – I thank you. You will notice I do not wear orange. Where anyone got the notion I wear orange is beyond me.
JC – I believe it’s from a television production of Pride and Prejudice.
JC – The Colin Firth fan-girls just loved it.
CB – And the actress they cast—Anna Chancellor. Could they make her look less attractive? Miss Jane Austen herself described me as a very fine lady and rather handsome. Tell me, did Miss Chancellor look fine and handsome to you?
CB – You see? If they had dressed her like that, I would have little cause to complain.
JC – Right. Since we’re talking about the screen adaptations, are there any you do approve of?
CB – Not particularly. Frieda Inescourt in the 1940 movie played me as if I was a character from the novel by that Mitchell woman—Gone with the Wind. Marsha Fitzalan, in 1980, resembles a rabbit. And as beautiful as Kelly Reilly is, I am not a red-headed ice-princess!
JC – I thought she was hot.
CB – You would, Mr. Caldwell! I thought Indira Varma in Bride & Prejudice looked rather well and was closer to my true character.
CB – Stop it, please! The only reason I cannot recommend her portrayal is because, well—she is not one of us. Do you take my meaning?
JC – Perfectly. I would remind you this is 21st century and we don’t accept that kind of thinking any longer, except you’re from the 19th century when people did. So, I think we should move along and get back to the topic. You wanted to make a defense of your character.
CB – Thank you. Yes, I believe my character has been much maligned by authors and screenwriters alike. I demand to have the truth accurately reported.
Several faults have been laid at my feet. The first is that I wanted to steal Mr. Darcy from Miss Elizabeth Bennet. May I remind you that Mr. Darcy knew me long before he had ever met Miss Elizabeth? How can I steal from a woman a man she has not even met?
JC – But once Darcy met Elizabeth, it was game over.
CB – Perhaps, but how was I to know that? I suspected an attraction, but I was not going to give him up until he made his feelings known in an unequivocal manner.
JC – Like he did at Pemberley.
CB – You would have to bring up that unpleasant moment. I was mortified, if you must know the truth. You will notice, however, that I did see it was the end to all my hopes.
JC – But weren’t you in love with Darcy?
CB – What does love have to do with it? You must remember that in my time, marriages were more often a business proposition. Romantic love was a silly fantasy, an unreachable dream. A gentleman wanted an attractive, suitable bride with an ample dowry to manage his household and bear his children. I was mortified by the Darcy marriage, because I was more suitable than Miss Eliza. I went to private seminary for my education. I brought a dowry of twenty thousand pounds. I was familiar with the society in London. I was the sister of Mr. Darcy’s particular friend. And yet, he married the dowry-less daughter of a country squire of no particular name or means.
JC – But, Miss Bingley, you must remember, she is a gentleman’s daughter. You, for all your wealth and education, are not.
CB – You can be most disagreeable when you wish to be, sir. Unlike you, I am not heartless. I did try to warn Miss Eliza about Mr. Wickham, but she disregarded me.
JC – Readers do consider you heartless over Jane Bennet.
Remember, I was trying to escape my roots from trade, as you were so kind as to remind me. Only by marriage to a landed gentleman could I accomplish that. Mr. Darcy was an ideal candidate. Miss Bennet, for all her goodness, came from an absurd family. Even Miss Eliza would admit that.
JC – True, but it was her family. She can get away with it. Outsiders cannot. Ask Mr. Darcy.
CB – Yes, Miss Eliza almost ruined her chances with that gentleman. I wonder if she truly appreciates him for not giving her up. Most men would have.
JC – Most men are not Fitzwilliam Darcy.
CB – Tell me about it—I beg your pardon … I meant, I am well aware of that, sir. In any case, I did like Miss Bennet, but I saw no particular affection in her. Certainly not enough to compensate for her lack of connections. And it was no difficult task for Louisa, Mr. Darcy, and me to convince Charles of her indifference. We could not know that Miss Bennet was deeply in love with my brother.
JC – I believe you’re stretching the truth, Miss Bingley. Didn’t Jane’s behavior in London prove she held a tendre for your brother?
CB – I deny that. Her actions could easily be interpreted as those of a lady eager to form an advantageous alliance, absent of any true affection. There was nothing wrong in protecting my brother from further heartbreak.
JC – You have stated that love has no place in Regency marriages. Yet, you now say that you were worried about your brother’s feelings. You contradict yourself, madam. Besides, you wrote to Jane, falsely claiming that Bingley was courting Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. What do you say to that?
CB – Wishes do not always come true.
JC – You avoided that very well, madam. Was there anything else you wished to say?
CB – Yes. It seems that I have been refashioned into a demon in the world of fiction. No evil is beneath me. I have been portrayed as mean, wicked, insane, or sexually deranged. I must say I am exceedingly displeased.
JC – Well, you have become the archetype of the evil “mean girl” that stands between the unconventional heroine and her stud-muffin.
CB – But I did nothing that harmed Elizabeth Bennet’s chances with Mr. Darcy! She did all the damage herself!
JC – True, but you’re convenient. Readers love seeing you get the short end of the stick.
CB – But must I always have an unhappy ending? Miss Austen did not think so.
CB – Hmm… that reminds me of something. Yes! You seemed to be of two minds about me, Mr. Caldwell. In your first book, PEMBERLEY RANCH, I am an emotionally damaged casualty of the American Civil War, but in your next, THE THREE COLONELS—
JC – Yes?
CB – I get, as you so charmingly put it, my own stud-muffin. How delightful!
JC – Yep. And remember, not all authors have an unpleasant end for you. Look at what others have done. Monica Fairview gave you your own Mr. Darcy in The Other Mr. Darcy. Jennifer Becton wrote a book about you – Caroline Bingley. Marsha Altman wrote a whole series of novels, beginning with The Darcys and The Bingleys, and you come out quite well in them.
CB – So are you saying I should not complain?
JC – Is there any chance of that?
CB – I think not.
JC – I thought so. Thank you for your time, Miss Bingley.
CB – YOU may call me Caroline, Mr. Caldwell.
JC – Thank you, Caroline. Until next time, I’m Jack Caldwell of The Cajun Cheesehead Chronicles.