Hats Off to Jane Austen’s Flawed Women
So, Caroline Bingley, you’re a privately-educated, good-looking posh girl and you’ve inherited a bit of dosh, £20,000 to be exact, which might be a lot of money for the time, but actually not quite enough to enable you to live the high life.
You and your family are at the top of the social tree in your home town area in the North of England, but you know you’re not quite top rank, not like Darcy, for example. But he’s the one your sights are set on. You’ve got it all worked out. You and Darcy, and your brother Charles and Darcy’s sister. Double wedding, maybe?
Oh, Caroline, we can see where you’re coming from. We recognise the slight insecurity about your background which makes you put on airs and graces. We recognise the way you can be nice when it suits you and stand-offish when you’re with people who don’t matter. We have met your mean, manipulative kind before.
But you make a lot of mistakes. When you come from London to Netherfield with Charles and the entourage, you don’t realise you are entering the fiercest of marriage market arenas. You think the Bennets and their crowd are a bunch of bumpkins. Jane Bennet is all right – sweet girl really, considering, but what a family!
The common-as-muck mother and the trollopy younger girl are bad enough, but then there’s that Elizabeth, absolutely full of herself, with an answer for everything.
Then, before you know it, you’re in a nightmare. Charles is making eyes at Jane, and Darcy is paying way too much attention to Elizabeth.
You try every Mean Girl trick you know to put Darcy off. You use a little sarcasm. You pull the class thing, laughing at the notion of Mrs Bennet as Darcy’s mother-in-law. When Elizabeth shows up at Netherfield, having walked all the way, you can’t wait for her to leave the room before you launch a vicious attack on her appearance and, well, everything about her. You say she has ‘no conversation, no style, no taste, no beauty’. You try to mask your seething jealousy by pretending to be affronted by her lack of decorum.
It doesn’t work, though, does it? You keep going. Since slagging off Elizabeth isn’t getting you anywhere, you try sucking up to Darcy. Oh, look at Darcy writing a letter! How wonderful! How do you make your handwriting so even? And isn’t Pemberley an amazing house! It has a library! I love reading, me!
The Dear Jane letter
Do you realise you are making a fool of yourself? But it doesn’t really matter because you have a trump card to play. When Charles moves back to London, you breathe a sigh of relief and write the brush-off letter to your dear friend Jane.
In the letter, you pull out all the stops. You say that you and Charles and Darcy will be in town with your own crowd for Christmas and the foreseeable future. You say how lovely Darcy’s sister is and how you hope she and Charles will marry. And when Jane pitches up in London, well, you have to be polite, but basically you freeze her out.
Job done, you think. But then that Elizabeth turns up again, would you believe it, at Pemberley. You lose it, big time. Subtlety flies out of the window. You have another go at criticising her appearance – so brown and coarse! – and throw in a dig at Mrs Bennet for good measure.
You remind Darcy that he once found Elizabeth unattractive. He delivers the killer blow. That was then, this is now, and now he thinks she’s the best-looking woman he knows.
Mean time runs out
It’s all over. The Mean Girl has met her match. You can’t think how it happened, but Charles marries Jane and Darcy marries that Elizabeth, and they all live not too far away from each other, how nice for them.
You know when you’re beaten and when it’s time to ease off with the bitterness and resentment. If making nice with Elizabeth is your ticket to visiting Pemberley, then that’s what you’ll do.
You get off quite lightly, really. We can see you as aunt to the Bingley offspring, chaperoning the girls on outings to shop for clothes, perhaps, or to do a season in London or Bath. Sometimes you drop mysterious hints about how different your life might have been, and sometimes they notice a funny look in your eyes when their Aunt Elizabeth is mentioned.