I have just finished reading Mr Darcy and the Secret of Becoming a Gentleman and I was intrigued by the portrayal of the character of Mr Bingley. It really made me think more about my opinion of Bingley.
What first brought to my attention this different take on Bingley’s character was when Darcy stated this to Bingley:
"It is a good thing that you are so friendly and good-natured. It fools most people into thinking that you are simpleminded. It allows you to observe the world unencumbered. Very little gets by you, though, and most people never recognise it."
As soon as I read that, I stopped reading and thought about what it was actually saying, and it made me rethink my opinion of his character. My first opinion of Bingley I remember was that he was a little ... well, not quite simpleminded but... a simpler person and a little weak. I think this was mainly down to his ease at being persuaded by Darcy and his sisters to quit Netherfield and forget Jane.
But, the new light thrown onto Bingley’s side of the story regarding his actions to Jane made me reconsider my snap judgment I had made about him and his actions. I had done that a lot with Darcy's character and behaviour as we are, as the readers, led to do that as Darcy's behaviour seems so awful that when we discover the truth, we automatically think about all his past behaviour from a different angle. With Bingley, however, you are not so much led to do this as Bingley was always a lovely character and so you don't automatically think about why he just left Netherfield with no intention of returning, as things work out for him and Jane without the need to think anymore about it really – him and Jane are happy, you can put the past behaviour behind you – whereas with Darcy, this re-evaluation of his character and past behaviour is vital to Lizzy’s and the readers opinion of him, and eventually the assurance that he is a gentleman whom we would be happy for Lizzy to settle with!
Marital obligations were much more important back in the regency period and I think that if you are told about the unsuitability of such a match by your esteemed friend and your sisters, as well as having it suggested that the woman in question is (to use a modern vulgar phrase) a ‘golddigger’ and after you for the wrong reasons, then, as it is such a personal topic close to the heart, it might be easy to begin to second guess yourself and believe what they are telling you, over what you think (I mean, Jane's affection wasn't that obvious (which is what caused Darcy to act as he did) and so I think Bingley could easily start to think over his relationship with Jane and begin to interpret it in another way once the trusted and important friend and sisters had mentioned their concerns and voiced their doubt. It is also clear that Bingley really values Darcy’s opinion.)
Darcy himself has a real internal struggle with the same problems which face Bingley and it takes him a while to finally let his heart win over his head, but while Darcy did allow his heart to win over his head and propose to Lizzy and Bingley was guided not to and didn't let his heart win, I now think he should not be looked upon so badly for such an action. Bingley is in no way as strong-minded and strong-willed as Darcy is, but this still does not make him simple-minded in my opinion.
Let’s think about Anne Elliot; she was persuaded to reject Wentworth, but you really cannot consider Anne simple-minded (even if she was 19 at the time) because she took the advice of a friend, as she certainly is not simpleminded.
I raised this question about Bingley in a discussion post on the site Goodreads and I began to become very defensive of Bingley, which is strange because I am much more a Darcy girl!
Many good points were raised during this conversation, adding to my new opinion of Bingley. One good friend pointed out that “Darcy clearly isn't attracted to people with a weak understanding. I doubt he would have made a great friend of an idiot.” This is, I think, very true. Why would Darcy befriend a simple-minded buffoon? As well as Darcy, I do not think that Jane would have loved Bingley if he was a bumbling idiot as Jane is in no way simple-minded!
I also think that the age difference partly would contribute to Bingley’s belief in Darcy’s opinion. Bingley is 25 and Darcy is 28 and I know from experience that it is natural to respect the opinions of someone older than you and even be influenced by them, even if the age gap is very small. I know at school I could be easily influenced by the opinion of someone older than me, even if they are only in the year above.
In response to this another good friend commented that “his worship, so to speak, of Darcy is not due to age, as it is due to class. Darcy has more money and comes from ‘older’ money; he even has aristocracy in his family line. Bingley and his sisters have newly acquired their money, from trade if I remember correctly. They are desperate to distance themselves from that fact and climb as high socially as they can. For Bingley, Darcy's opinion is the only one that matters. It is not from simple mindedness, but from blind devotion. Bingley is easily swayed especially by his manipulative sisters, who want nothing better than to marry him to Georgiana and firmly establish their family in society.” I cannot but agree with this as the Bingley’s did earn their money in trade, even if Caroline has conveniently forgotten that fact, and so a connection to the Darcy's of Pemberley in Derbyshire would be a great success and very important connection indeed!
I will say that my original opinion of Bingley was not improved from the portrayals in some of the adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Another good friend on Goodreads mentioned a certain scene in particular in the 1995 adaptation, the one “where he asks Darcy for his blessing. I thought that scene showed an understanding of Bingley's character”, Bingley’s character being rather simple and weak. Although I understood what she was referring to, again going on the defensive of Bingley, I did not agree as I took that scene in a different way. I think that Bingley simply wanted Darcy's blessing because he so values his friendship, but if Darcy had said no (which, by that point, we all know he wouldn't have!) I do not think that would have stopped Bingley – in fact I know it wouldn’t have stopped him; he says himself in response to Darcy question about whether he needs his blessing 'No, but I should like to have it all the same.'
I did not mind, as much, Bingley’s portrayal in the 1995 mini-series – he didn’t seem so... feeble. But, I am afraid to say, however cute the Bingley in the 2005 film is, he was portrayed as a bit of a buffoon and a little (I am sorry to say!) pathetic!
So my new found opinion of Bingley has been decided and I much prefer this way of looking at Bingley and his behaviour and it makes me happier that he was indeed a brilliant husband for Jane.
I would be interested in your comments about the character of Mr Bingley :)
Your affectionate friend,