Frienemy: that person who pretends to be your friend, but in the end, they’re only looking to serve their own interests. While the name didn’t exist in Jane Austen’s time, the concept certainly did! Jane put at least one character of this archetype in nearly all her books. Here I give you my rankings of the top 6 frienemies in Austen’s novels.
#6: Mrs. Smith (Persuasion)
You might be wondering why she’s on this list. After all, Anne Elliot always considered her a friend. Yet she makes the cut for one important reason in my opinion: even knowing Mr. Elliot’s character, she encouraged Anne’s relationship with him, hoping that Anne could convince him to help recover the late Mr. Smith’s fortunes in the West Indies. It was only after Anne insisted that she had no intention of marrying Mr. Elliot that Mrs. Smith revealed his true colors and history. Maybe Mrs. Smith didn’t think it was her place to interfere if they were already engaged. But personally, if my best friend had some dirt on the guy that she thought I was planning to marry and didn’t say anything to stop me from marrying a no-good scoundrel, I’d question whether she was truly my friend. Just sayin’…
Oh, Isabella! When we first meet her in Bath, she seems like such a fun friend for Catherine Moreland! She’s outgoing and bubbly, loves the same kind of literature, and she’s soon engaged to Catherine’s big brother James. Sounds perfect, right? But it isn’t long before her selfishness becomes plain. She and her brother try to monopolize Catherine’s time. Twice, they interfere with Catherine’s plans with Eleanor and Henry Tilney and make her feel guilty for spending time with someone besides them. Later on, Isabella dumps James Moreland on a whim in favor of a richer man, which shows how shallow she is. Worse still, when that falls through, she has the nerve to write to Catherine saying she ‘made a mistake’ and begs her to help patch things up with James. As if![su_spacer size=”40″]
#4: Mary Crawford (Mansfield Park)
Mary is one of those characters we wish we could love. On the surface, she seems nice, treats Fanny Price as a friend, is a talented harpist (always a plus in my book!) and she’s beautiful. But underneath that façade, Mary’s moral character is sadly lacking. She tells rude jokes and makes fun of the clergy and of Edmund for planning to become ordained. She encourages her brother Henry to pursue Fanny, even knowing that he plans to toy with Fanny’s heart. When Tom Bertram falls deathly ill, she coldly implies that it might be for the best if he died, in order that Edmund could inherit the baronetcy. The crux of the novel hinges on an extramarital affair that comes to light. When Henry and Maria Rushworth run away together, Mary makes it clear she finds nothing wrong with the affair except for the couple’s lack of discretion and blames Fanny for not accepting Henry’s proposal when she had the chance. Lucky for Fanny, she dodged that bullet![su_spacer size=”30″]
#3 & #2: Louisa Hurst and Caroline Bingley (Pride and Prejudice)
Two of the meanest sisters that Austen ever wrote! In Elizabeth’s presence, they always appear friendly and polite, but the second she leaves the room, they begin to bad-mouth her and her family. Caroline is the worst; she often disparages Elizabeth to Mr. Darcy, hoping to diminish his regard for her and elevate her own status. Louisa and Caroline think of Jane as a “sweet girl”, but they treat her more like a pet than a friend. Whenever they are away from her, they seem to forget all about her. That is, until they find out their brother wants to marry her. Considering that to be an unfavorable match, they help Mr. Darcy to separate Jane and Charles. When Jane follows them to London in hopes of reuniting with Charles Bingley, Caroline goes out of her way to avoid seeing Jane, only doing so, at last, to avoid being accused of snubbing her. The last time we see Caroline is when she and Elizabeth meet at Pemberley. Caroline is so cold towards Elizabeth, it is obvious she never wished to be friends, and as soon as Elizabeth has left, Caroline returns to her usual pattern of bashing her behind her back. What a frienemy!
#1: Lucy Steele (Sense and Sensibility)
My opinion: Lucy is the worst of the worst when it comes to frienemies! Initially, she is friendly towards Elinor and they spend a lot of time together. However, once Lucy picks up from Mrs. Jennings’s teasing that Elinor is sweet on Edward Ferrars, she turns mean and jealous. Lucy is secretly engaged to Edward, but though he no longer has feelings for her, she refuses to give him up because he stands to inherit a fortune. Translation: gold-digger! She pretends to confide in Elinor about her engagement in order to wound her and stake her claim on Edward, knowing that Elinor’s sense of honor will prevent her from either acting on her feelings for Edward or betraying Lucy’s secret. She is the master at carefully crafting her sentences to say nothing but friendly things, but her pointed emphasis on certain words tells Elinor that she actually means the opposite– they are not friends![su_spacer size=”30″]
Who do you think is the worst frienemy that Jane wrote? Is there someone that you think should be on this list? Tell me in the comments!