Bingley: Boy or Man?

Bingley: Boy or Man?

As I continue the character studies of P&P, I keep coming back to Mr. Bingley. I have a hard time getting a read on him sometimes, so I am counting on all of you to help me figure him out. Here’s what I have so far.

Follow the leader

He is easily led. Actually, he isn’t led by just anyone, he is easily led by Darcy. He ignores his sisters as we see throughout the book – he would never have offered for Jane if he let them lead him around.

And we really don’t know if he is easily led anywhere else. He can’t be a complete idiot. He didn’t squander his family fortune and Austen herself says that while he is not clever like Darcy, he is “not deficient”. That isn’t glowing praise, but it does rule out stupidity.

The Horse

This is an odd thing to notice and I am likely reading into things, but I do wonder about Bingley’s horse. The book says he rides a black horse, and that makes me think he must have hidden depths somewhere. I live in the heart of horse country and a black horse isn’t ridden by just anyone. They are often seen as more difficult or temperamental – wild, whether it’s true or not. Point being, Mr. Bingley must have an adventurous side, he must be brave in some areas if he has a black horse. Only a very tough rider chooses a horse like that – and survives it. And of course there is all the correlation to a dark horse, one that is mysterious and wins the race from a disadvantageous position. Sound like Bingley to anyone else?

Mr. Personality

Bingley is friendly and charming and nice to everyone. He is patient with ridiculous people and glosses over embarrassing situations like a pro (think Lydia demanding he hold a ball). These are all things we admire. In fact, Austen gives us 3 very charming people in this book. Charles Bingley, George Wickham, and the beloved Elizabeth Bennet. It hasn’t escaped my notice that Darcy is drawn to that sort of person: his childhood friend, his adult best friend, and his wife make for an impressive argument in favor of him purposely surrounding himself with people more easygoing than himself. And let’s not forget the lovable Colonel Fitzwilliam, another gregarious personality and Darcy’s chosen travel buddy.

Each of these charming people has a (somewhat fatal) set of flaws. Wickham is dishonest and a compulsive liar with no sense of responsibility and a loose moral compass. Elizabeth jumps to conclusions and willfully misunderstands, not to mention she is stubborn, defensive, and vain. Bingley has a weakness for ladies and doesn’t trust his own instincts when it comes to women, namely Jane Bennet.

Now, looking at the three of them, Bingley hardly seems like the worst, at least to me. I would venture to say that Bingley’s absence from Jane’s life wasn’t any more painful to her than Elizabeth’s set-down was painful to Darcy. Both Bingley and Elizabeth were led astray by their own weaknesses, and in the end, Bingley’s proved more easy to remedy than hers. Of course, he is easier in general – we think.

The Odd Couple

His relationship with Darcy has always seemed a little confusing to me. At first, I thought he was sort of the puppy and Darcy was the leader, and they had a somewhat symbiotic relationship. Darcy gave Bingley much needed guidance and a steadying influence plus some social clout, Bingley gave Darcy some cheer and easy company. Maybe Darcy enjoys being the higher-up in the relationship – he prefers things unequal so he always has the upper hand.

On closer inspection, I’ve changed my mind.

First of all, Darcy puts up with the snooty sisters and the dull Mr. Hurst. We know he’s a snob, and yet he is still close friends with a man whose money comes from trade. I don’t think a little easy company is worth putting up with that family and compromising those principles. There must have been something in it for him and some very real affection between him and Bingley.

We see Bingley tease Darcy at Netherfield. He makes fun of Darcy on a Sunday night with nothing to do. He also teases him about disliking balls and says he can go upstairs and go to bed if he doesn’t want to be bothered. That conversation is an excellent example of their relationship.

Bingley clearly sees Darcy as a fallible man and is not in awe of him, so it takes that motive away for listening to Darcy’s advice later about Jane Bennet. It shows that Bingley can make up his own mind and doesn’t always do what Darcy wants him to or act according to Darcy’s preference – Bingley is no lapdog. It also shows that there is a rapport, some good-natured ribbing that goes on between the two. Now, I think Darcy was embarrassed in this case, likely because they were in mixed company, but we’re focusing on Bingley for now.

Bingley also calls Darcy out for “standing about in this stupid manner” at the assembly in Meryton. Again, we see Bingley teasing Darcy (sound like an annoying male version of Elizabeth to anyone else?).

All this leads me to think that Bingley is his own man and is not constantly led about, but that he left Jane for other reasons – not just because someone told him to. What those reasons were is a mystery, but I think it was likely a combination of his trust in his good friend and that friend thinking it was a bad idea, Bingley knowing it was a bad idea practically, his own insecurity about his lovability and possibly concern about the longevity of his own feelings, and Jane not being demonstrative in her affection.

Bow to the Master

If I may digress for a moment, I have to say Austen’s brilliance continues to shine through in the contrast of Darcy and Bingley. Charlotte says early in the book that there are few people strong enough to be in love without proper encouragement. We see that in action with Bingley. He doesn’t have enough encouragement from Jane and that plays into him leaving her. However Darcy receives no encouragement from Elizabeth and pursues her anyway. Though, it must be said that in his own delusional mind, he thought he was being encouraged, so perhaps they aren’t so different in that regard.

In the end of P&P, Darcy leaves Hertfordshire with no intention of return based on Elizabeth’s lack of encouragement when he saw her at Longbourn. Even he, the great hero, needed encouragement in such a weighty matter. Was that Austen vindicating Bingley a bit? Humanizing Darcy? A little bit of both?

Austen also does a great job of showing off Elizabeth’s faulty reasoning through Bingley. She praises Bingley’s affability and willingness to accede to a friend’s wishes at Netherfield, but when that actually plays out in the form of Bingley leaving for London and suddenly deciding to remain there at the behest of his good friend Darcy, it doesn’t seem so great anymore. Elizabeth doesn’t really blame Bingley for his own actions – she blames Darcy. Is that because she accepts Bingley’s personality for what it is and knows Darcy is pulling the strings, or does she just hate Darcy so much and like Bingley so much that she isn’t willing to change her opinions?

Without realizing it, she is shown the difference between a steady temperament and a tractable one.

In Conclusion

After all this thinking about Bingley I still don’t have him figured out, but I do think he deserves more respect than he usually gets in the fandom. It’s easy to make him dumb and weak in comparison to Darcy – we all want our guy to look good and many like an extreme alpha male. But I think we’ve done a disservice to Bingley in the attempt to make Darcy look better. I think he believed a friend. A trusted, loved, old friend. How many of us might do the same? Especially if there wasn’t a lot of evidence to refute their arguments? (And quite frankly, Darcy doesn’t need Bingley to make him look good.) 😉

Please weigh-in on Bingley and help me unravel this often glossed-over character.

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Gianna Thomas
March 15, 2016 4:38 PM

I personally love the character of Mr. Bingley. He reminds me of a young man who’s intelligent, caring but a little inexperienced especially in a world where, in a sense, he doesn’t quite fit. He’s in trade but because of his wealth, he’s being courted, not only by those a little above him but quite possibly by those quite above his station. And all because of his money. Personally, if it were me, I’d feel more than a little insecure socially never knowing who was sincere and who was not. In his case, I think that Jane not showing him any encouragement really hurt him, and when Darcy presented his argument, it just reinforced what Bingley suspected might be the case concerning Jane’s feelings. He and Darcy are really close friends, and Bingley knows that Darcy cares about his welfare. Their friendship is a really strong one as each brings qualities that help balance out the other. I do think of Bingley as having some little boy enthusiasm about life, and that may be a part of his personality that attracts Darcy as I feel he’s lost that part of his life due to responsibilities and shyness. Bingley, I think, is much more balanced in his personality than Darcy. And it may be that he finished growing up when he married Jane particularly in decision making. i.e. moving from Netherfield. I love Bingley. He’s a sweet, kind, loving man that with the right woman makes a wonderful marriage. And I bet he would make a marvelous father to his children as well.

January 10, 2016 3:16 PM

“Beloved” Elizabeth Bennet? She is my least favourite character in P&P. (And one of my least favourite in the entire Jane canon.) I didn’t like her in the book — she is a gossip monger who deliberately sets out to damage Darcy’s reputation, not to mention dense as a rock about Darcy’s feelings towards her, altho’ Charlotte completely comprehended him — and I liked her even less in the 1995 adaptation not only for these reasons but because I thought her role woefully miscast (Ehle was 26 at the time and simply could not pass herself off as “not one and twenty”, and her “English” accent was atrocious.) Her main attraction seemed to be her ample cleavage, which she was constantly flaunting, esp in the scenes at Rosings and at the piano at Pemberley, with no lace tucker or fichu — in other words, no modesty. And when she accepted to dance with Darcy at Netherfield yet kept goading him and pulling faces when he couldn’t see her … what an unpleasant, unappealing character. D&E’s romance was a fairy tale written by a lovely writer with great imagination but little real-world experience IMNSHO.

Re Bingley, I loved reading all these comments and observations. He is a character you just take for granted … now this page has made me think more deeply about him. I tend to think of the Darcy/Bingley relationship as opposites attract: Darcy is old money, and carries around a bit of a pole up his butt regarding the rest of the world. Bingley is parvenu, lighter and more fun-loving, and views the world as Darcy points out, always eager to approve of everything and everyone. They provide a good balance as BFFs. But one thing stands out: both of them describe themselves (or each other) as shy or diffident. It seems to me that, as the story commences, neither of them has had much experience with women — despite Darcy’s insistence that he has seen Bingley fall in love many times — and simply do not know how to act with women, esp women they are attracted to. As the story progresses, they seem to learn together how to behave, with each influencing the other; Darcy learning to be more open and light-hearted, and Bingley.learning to be more sure of himself. A sort of symbiotic relationship.

Thank you for letting me comment FWIW.

Joana Starnes
August 11, 2015 7:52 PM

Thanks so much for this great thought-provoking post, Elizabeth! I was sitting here going, ‘Yes, exactly!’ and ‘Never thought of that’ and grinning from ear to ear at ‘Darcy doesn’t need Bingley to look good’. I loved your characterisation of Mr Bingley and the little details that say so much (like the dark horse reference, such an eye opener!). I too think that Mr Bingley deserves a better treatment in fandom (although I don’t always practise what I preach). And I agree with Diana, we need more Bingleys 🙂

Diana Ortiz (@TTT_diana)
August 9, 2015 5:10 PM

Aww, I have never seen Mr. Bingley as a weal guy, movies might make him look a bit silly but I think the book shows him as a sensible young man, maybe kind of afraid of being rejected. I love Mr. Darcy, but I think in real life we need more Mr. Bingleys.

Deborah Fortin
August 9, 2015 1:37 AM

I have always considered Bingley as someone who listens to his friend’s advice, but,since there was no encouragement in any way at all from Jane that he made the proper decision. Thank you so much for such a well thought post. It has reinforced my feelings on these situations.

August 8, 2015 1:14 AM

PLOT TWIST: Darcy/Bingley relationship is retold in Emma/Harriet but moved to the main plotline. Think about it…less wealthy, younger friend falls in love, richer friend out of pride sees potential mate as unsuitable, talks friend out of it, realizes his/her mistake, orchestrates reunion, marriage.

Cecilia Gray
August 7, 2015 1:01 AM

THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!!! and you’ve seriously just made a total blow-over character very mysterious and attractive to me…perhaps I am the one easily led 😛

Jennifer Redlarczyk
August 6, 2015 9:45 AM

I’ve never really thought too much about Bingley. He just seems so easy going, kind of like me. So I like it that you are giving him more depth of character. Not everyone can be brooding. It takes the Bingleys of the world to balance those who are more serious and to help them lighten up. Thanks for the post. Jen

August 5, 2015 10:05 PM

Remember the end of PP – Jane Austen says that the Wicxkhams were guests at the Bingley home, and Bingley let them take advantage of their hospitality for long periods of time – perhaps overlong, similar to the way he hosts the Hursts despite Mr Hurst’s appetites I think this shows that he is not good at putting his foot down. Would like to see a story in which Bingley would court and propose to Jane because HE thinks of it, instead of relying on others’ advice.

August 8, 2015 3:16 PM

Yay, you! I hope you give him plenty of motivation for wanting to change.

Sheila L. M.
Sheila L. M.
August 5, 2015 5:26 PM

I agree with the Charlotte comment. Jane smiled at everyone. She needed to give him a little encouragement. I am sure even though he is from trade that there were many women giving him signs of encouragement. Didn’t he “fall in love easily” so there must have been others showing him deference. The fact that Darcy and his sisters followed him to London upset plans and it was just easier to go along, I believe. But I don’t forgive him entirely for not going back and making up his own mind if she was or was not showing any signs that she liked or even loved him. With the whole neighborhood making it clear that they expected a wedding how can he discount their opinions. The people of Meryton know Jane, haven known her all her life. Surely they can be fairly good judges of whether or not she is receptive to his advances. (Darcy is far worse at judging whether or not a woman is in love with him!) Your insights as to the type of personalities with which Darcy surrounds himself are interesting. I never thought about that but it is so true.

Brenda Webb
August 5, 2015 3:11 PM

What a delightful look at Bingley! You have changed my perspective of him. Good job! I may write Bingley as the puppy in the future, but I may also make him a more complex creature in some of my tales. Refreshing look at this character.

Lauren K
Lauren K
August 5, 2015 12:28 PM

This is an interesting dive into Bingley’s character. You are right that he is not a lap dog or a “yes man” to Darcy, e.g. Collins. He is able to tease and speak informally to Darcy like Col. Fitwzwilliam and Darcy has a vested interest in his friend. I believe a big part of his reason to convince Bingley to leave Jane was because he wanted to get away from Elizabeth.

True that Bingley could be swayed that Jane was not in love with him due to his own insecurities. But Charlotte called it.. All in all a very interesting post and I’ll have to re-read P & P with a more critical eye on Bingley.

August 5, 2015 11:47 AM

Sometimes, it’s easier to just let a stronger personality do the leading. But when the less strong personality needs to step up to the plate, s/he does it. And Darcy definitely is the stronger personality, as we all know. Bingley most likely has learned that, most times, Darcy will have his way. And even though the decision is in regards to Bingley’s feelings/future, perhaps he goes along with it, because it’s like you said – he doesn’t feel it completely enough to decide on his own. But once Darcy confesses, Bingley at that point has been alone with his feelings for a while and knows what he feels, and then acts on them.

August 5, 2015 11:22 AM

You make some interesting comments here, some I had not thought of.. and I think he was brave.. he came back to Jane after all that time, he married into the Bennet family, against his sisters wishes.. and lived for a time close by.. then he had the courage to up and move his family.. he was not a wimp there. Bingley was nice to the Bennet family but when Mrs Bennet interfered he didn’t put up with her crap.. they moved..she wouldn’t change so he did what had to be done.. some might think that cowardly I don’t. it was the best solution for them. very interesting post.

Stephanie L
Stephanie L
August 5, 2015 9:22 AM

I never see him as weak, I have always seen him as human. Putting myself in his shoes, if I were completely enamored of someone and said to my dearest friend oh my he’s just an angel (or whatever the hot male counterpart would be), and then wasn’t sure if said angel was interested in ME….it wouldn’t take but a work of a little bit to give me pause and “confirm” my own suspicions. I think Bingley wasn’t all that sure that Jane was interested in him besides a pleasant evenings diversion and when Darcy and the Sisters start on their campaign, Bingley sees it as his worst suspicion confirmed. He is not being wishy washy, he truly believes that she thinks he’s lovely but is not in love with him remotely and no one volunteers for rejection. I never thought about the black horse but that’s a great line of thought as well. He and Darcy are true friends with a affection between them and that is why it is so hard for Darcy to admit he was wrong about Jane, he feels he has given bad counsel to his truest friend. If Jane had given a touch of encouragement or if Darcy had not been hell bent on getting away from Elizabeth, Bingley would never have left. I could go on…lol…he has not squandered his inheritance but instead leased an estate and brought the best estate manager he knows to give him insight (that’s not air headed…that planning).

August 5, 2015 8:39 AM

Interesting post! I see Bingley as a complex character.

August 5, 2015 6:41 AM

In the book he is a man, an imperfect man, as every character is. In the 2005 film I consider him a wimpy child.

Jean Clements
September 10, 2015 3:51 PM
Reply to  Vesper

I don’t think the film version did P&P any favours at all. I couldn’t relate to any of the characters. Bingley really was a complicated man who admired Darcy and loved Jane. His struggle I think came with believing he would subject himself, but Jane also, to a marriage of convenience. He would have hated making her pretend what she didn’t feel in their marriage and because he loved her so much – and perhaps as she was a gentleman’s daughter – didn’t have the confidence to feel himself able to inspire that love.

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