Gotta Get A Bingley, by Elaine Owen

Gotta Get A Bingley, by Elaine Owen

Charles Bingley, Darcy’s affable and somewhat heedless best friend, is a curious character in Pride and Prejudice. His inclusion in the plot is a little odd. After all, the love story between Darcy and Elizabeth could be told without Bingley’s part at all. Strictly speaking his story arc is completely unnecessary. But Bingley is a more interesting and complex character than he first seems, and today I would like to show you why.

First, let’s review what we know about Bingley. He is a fairly young man, probably younger than Darcy, and quite wealthy. He is the son of a tradesman from Scarborough. He arrives in Hertfordshire to look for an estate to lease or purchase. In other words, he is “new money,” a gentleman only because his father worked for a living and passed his money on. He is not what some would consider a “true” gentleman at all. But Bingley is eager to make the most of his inheritance and take a step up the social ladder by becoming a member of the landed gentry.

We never find out how Darcy and Bingley met, nor do we discover how two men with such opposite personalities ever became friends. Most writers assume that they met at Cambridge and that they are friends because their opposing personalities balance each other out. Darcy can give Bingley advice and direction, while Bingley’s charm and cheerful personality soften Darcy’s more severe edges.

Here is where we begin to see why Bingley is in the story. Obviously his arrival at Netherfield is the impetus for the novel, and he is the reason why Darcy and Elizabeth meet. He also has a social climbing sister who gives us some moments of humor. 🙂 But there’s another reason for his inclusion. Bingley’s personality is in direct contrast to his friend Darcy. Darcy doesn’t need to climb any social ladder; he’s already pretty high on it. He doesn’t require anyone’s approval. Bingley, on the other hand, longs for acceptance and inclusion and, at least to me, comes across as a little needy. Darcy is his own man, while Bingley is still trying to find his place in the world.

For all these reasons Bingley is a flat character in Pride and Prejudice and he is mostly overlooked in JAFF. I can’t think of any stories featuring Bingley as a main character; he’s just not that interesting. Usually he is treated as a plot device. 

For a long time I treated him that way too. But several years ago I had a chance to delve into Bingley’s mind a little bit when I wrote An Unexpected Turn of Events. This is a Pride and Prejudice continuation that takes place ten years after the events of the original novel. Bingley is not the focus of the story, but in it I asked the question, what if Mr. Bennet’s prediction about Bingley and Jane came true? What if they really were “so complying that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income”?

Answering the question gave me a new sympathy for Bingley. When I took up my pen to write in Bingley’s voice I discovered an unexpected vulnerability behind his ever cheerful facade. In this passage Bingley explains to Mr. Bennet why he and Jane are struggling in their marriage, and how such an intelligent, well educated man would have servants that walked all over him. 

“There is so much I don’t know about running an estate, Mr. Bennet. My father was in trade, as was his father before him. I was taught how to work with my hands, not how to rely on others to do the work for me. I thought that being prosperous was a matter of locating a suitable home, purchasing it, and then trusting your steward and other servants to run it for you. I had no idea that setting up and and administering a place like Vinings, with all of its servants and tenants and everything else involved, would be so difficult!”

A little later in the same passage we uncover what I think is Bingley’s greatest fear:

“Jane deserves the best of everything, but what have I given her instead? An estate in debt, servants who take endless advantage of us and children we cannot seem to manage. I am not the man she thought she married. . . . She deserves better than me, Mr. Bennet. She thought she was marrying a gentleman, not a man whose hands stink with the scent of trade. That’s what I am, you know; I will never be a gentleman in the way you and Darcy are.”

In my opinion Bingley has a massive inferiority complex. He doesn’t have the background that Darcy and Jane have. He is buying his way into a lifestyle that his family expects him to provide, and he doesn’t know if he is up to the job. He is afraid of letting his family down, and as a result he relies far too much on Darcy’s judgment instead of his own. Yet would we be any different in his shoes?  How would any of us react if we had the pressure of an entire family’s social advancement riding on our shoulders at such a young age?

I would love to see a JAFF delve into Bingley’s back story. How old was he when his father began to prosper? Did he realize, growing up, how much responsibility he would have to assume? How did his upbringing affect his outlook on life? Most of all,  what would it take for him to leave his insecurities behind and become a confident and decisive man? 

So what do you think? Is there more to Bingley that you first thought? Would you read an entire novel based around him, or is he simply too bland for your taste? If he didn’t end up with Jane, who would you see him marrying? Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

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Marie H
Marie H
September 23, 2021 7:31 AM

I somehow missed this this post back in June, but I must comment! As it happens, I am too often “put out” by Bingley depicted as a weakling and it sometimes gets on my last nerve when it combined with no intelligence. I love it when an author goes beyond the usual and gives him a strong personality. There are a couple I’ve read that make him somewhat of a villain, and that really doesn’t work for me. I love a strong Bingley!

September 9, 2021 5:46 AM

We know exactly how old Bingley is: he’s 22 when he takes Netherfield, or as Austen puts it:

Mr. Bingley had not been of age two years, when he was tempted by an accidental recommendation to look at Netherfield House.

That makes him five or six years younger than Darcy, who was “eight and twenty” six months later at Hunsford per his admission in Chapter 58. (That fact also does make it less likely that they met at university.)

I don’t think Bingley has a massive inferiority complex; I think he’s so young and inexperienced and used to being led by his sisters that he relies a little too much on the advice of an older, wealthier friend, to his detriment. Darcy’s admission of his misdirection and the realization that he let himself be led astray might be just what he needs to open his eyes.

Last edited 11 months ago by Charlene
June 29, 2021 5:16 AM

Enjoyed this character study on Bingley.

Bronwen Chisholm
June 28, 2021 2:13 PM

I like your ideas regarding Bingley and his insecurities. When I read P&P, I saw him just as Austen said, having “a great natural modesty,” ergo quick to doubt himself. Many of the movies, on the other hand, seem to portray him as dimwitted. In general, it seems Bingley who stands up for himself and those he loves is preferred. (I have written a couple books where he does so. Though not the main character, I’ve tried to get him as close to it as possible without upsetting those readers who prefer to read about Darcy and Elizabeth.) He definitely deserves more than he has probably received in the past.
Thank you for a wonderful post.

June 19, 2021 7:33 PM

I prefer ODC as main characters but I started having some books with a sort of Mr Bingley as the main character. I prefer him to be more of a secondary character.

There were books that Jane was not available so Bingley ended up with Georgiana or someone else. It was kinda hard to accept, I guess I am just traditional. (One was easier to accept as Jane died so there was really no chance for the two)

Gianna Thomas
June 19, 2021 7:24 PM

I like Bingley with a backbone and usually depict him that way. In fact, I’m thinking about that backbone for my latest. As to a story just about Jane and Bingley, I think several could be written with different endings. Unfortunately, books about the other characters in P&P don’t sell as well as those featuring Darcy and Elizabeth. At least, that is what I’ve heard. 🙂

N. N. Light
N. N. Light
June 18, 2021 4:38 PM

I found this very enlightening. I’ve always enjoyed Bingley. He brings a joyfulness and all around gaiety not seen much in Regency society. It makes sense to me why he and Jane are together as they have the same temperament.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
June 18, 2021 7:50 AM

Good post! Yes there is more to Bingley than was thought. It would be nice to have a back story to go with him!

Riana Everly
June 18, 2021 7:35 AM

That’s a good analysis.
For me, I think Bingley (and with him, Jane) serves to distract us. At first we think he is the hero, and it comes as quite a shock half-way through when we realize that it’s really Darcy and Elizabeth who take centre stage. Just like they aren’t aware, at first, of their growing attraction, we as first-time readers aren’t aware that the story is really THEIR story.
As for Bingley and Jane and variations, I’m always happy for them to end up together, but I’m equally happy when they don’t.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
June 17, 2021 9:07 PM

Great post and great comments. I think I have read just about every variety of Bingley there is. I’m sure you will surprise us with your depiction. I enjoy seeing Bingley with a backbone. If he tackled estate management like he would running a factory or business… I think it might make sense for him. There would still be people to manage and he would have overseers [steward] who had responsibilities that he would need to check and see that ‘stuff’ was done. He would understand keeping books and records. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Darcy could make that connection for him and maybe that would make more sense to him.

Jane, yeah, I have seen her marry others and I actually prefer that. However, if she does marry Bingley, I want him to take up for her and kick Caroline on the next coach headed north when she gets snarky with Jane. A husband has to take up for his wife. That is a cardinal rule. If he can’t do that… he has no business marrying a sweet creature like Jane. I especially like seeing her with our Colonel. Yep, that makes my heart go pitter-patter. Thanks for sharing.

Linda A.
Linda A.
June 17, 2021 2:38 PM

I’m with Regina. If we look at P&P itself, both Bingley and Jane are plot devices, nothing more, and neither is my cup of tea (to go with Regina’s milquetoast ;).) IRL, people who are too nice make me want to say or do something to “shock” their sensibilities. In JAFF, I prefer when Bingley shows he has a backbone and can make his own well-thought-out decisions, and Jane either isn’t (as) nice or finds a stronger man to marry, like Colonel Fitzwilliam.

June 17, 2021 8:24 AM

In truth, I cannot decide whether I even want Jane with Bingley. There are both a bit milquetoast for me. Occasionally, I write her coming to her senses and marrying another. Generally, then, I write Bingley as succumbing to his family’s advice to marry elsewhere. I do enjoy writing the scene where Darcy must apologize for “guiding” Bingley’s steps away from Jane.

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