Caroline Bingley saying to Elizabeth Bennet "Excuse my interference it was kindly meant."

How well could Caroline Bingley expect to marry?

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By Bethany Delleman

Portrait of Marie-Denise Smits, née Gandolphe by Antoine Ansiaux. While we don’t know if Caroline plays the harp, this portrait reminds me of her.

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Caroline Bingley is a stand-in for the fawning London women who pursue Mr. Darcy for his wealth and social standing. While Mr. Darcy is clearly not interested, that doesn’t mean that Caroline will not find a rich husband eventually. Looking at Jane Austen’s other works and other women’s marriage prospects, how well could Miss Bingley expect to marry?

Firstly, we are told that Caroline has a fortune of £20,000 and that she associates with people of rank. We know from Persuasion that it was the choice of high ranking people if they wished to accept association with people of lower status than themselves, which means that the Bingley family has been accepted by these gatekeepers into higher circles. Whether they did this themselves or rode in on Darcy’s coattails isn’t clear, but the education had they received would have helped them make those all important “connections.” However, while their position in society is likely tenuous, it does seem that they have established themselves. The sisters want Charles to purchase an estate to solidify their family’s status permanently.

Even as just a wealthy trade heiress, Caroline can expect to do pretty well for herself. In Sense & Sensibility, Mrs. Jennings is a woman whose husband engaged in trade. Her two daughters, Lady Middleton and Mrs. Palmer, have married a baronet and a wealthy landowner respectively. While we do not know the exact amount of each Miss Jennings’s fortune prior to marriage, these two women greatly resemble Caroline. They have been sent to school to acquire better manners than their vulgar mother and then married very advantageously. Caroline has the advantage of having no embarrassing mother!

This is not the only time in Jane Austen’s works that a member of the gentry marries a woman in trade for wealth. In Persuasion, Mr. Elliot is unwilling to wait to inherit Kellynch estate and he marries the daughter of “a grazier, her grandfather had been a butcher” (Ch 21). He is the heir presumptive to a baronetcy as well. It is implied that the wealthy heiress Sophia Grey who marries Willoughby in Sense & Sensibility gained her fortune from trade as well.

We are told in Mansfield Park that at least £10,000 gives a woman an “equitable claim” on marrying a baronet. When Mary Crawford arrives at Mansfield with her beauty, accomplishments, and fortune of £20,000, she is fully confident that she could marry the future heir to Sir Thomas’s baronetcy if she wished. Her half-sister Mrs. Grant is sure her sister is worthy, “the eldest son of a baronet was not too good for a girl of twenty thousand pounds, with all the elegance and accomplishments which Mrs. Grant foresaw in her” (Ch 4).

Mary Crawford is the daughter of a gentleman, which makes her slightly different than Caroline, but mere rank can only do so much. Lady Catherine is not wrong that Elizabeth Bennet, with no connections to speak of, no fortune, and no family, is not in the same sphere as Mr. Darcy despite being the daughter of a gentleman. The Bingleys go to London and put in the hours for what we would now call networking. The Bennets on the other hand never go to London; even when Jane and Elizabeth visit, they stay with their relations in trade. Mrs. Gardiner admits that her family doesn’t move in the same circles as the Bingleys.

I took this all into consideration when I wrote my first novel, Prideful & Persuaded. Caroline Bingley, the heroine of my tale, goes to Bath to find a husband. There she meets Sir Walter from Persuasion, an impoverished baronet, Tom Bertram from Mansfield Park, the next heir to a baronetcy and a good estate, and Frederick Tilney from Northanger Abbey, the eldest son of wealthy member of the gentry. All of them have motives wanting to marry quickly and well. Why not choose a rather handsome heiress, with good manners, accomplishments, and £20,000? Especially that £20,000…

To see who Caroline chooses, check out my novel

14 responses to “How well could Caroline Bingley expect to marry?”

  1. Riana Everly Avatar

    A healthy dowry could go a long way to atone for unfortunate grandparents.
    I do love a cross-over novel, and I’d love to see Caroline match wits with these gentlemen you have lined up for her.
    Part of me wants her to choose Sir Walter, just to prevent the slimy Mr. Elliot from getting his way, but I’ll have to see what you’ve got planned for them.

    1. bdelleman Avatar
      bdelleman

      It is Sir Walter’s intention to disinherit Mr. Elliot, he’s the worst!

      And yes, as they say wealth is a very strong bleach.

  2. Jennifer Redlarczyk Avatar
    Jennifer Redlarczyk

    What a great article. Thanks for posting.

    1. bdelleman Avatar
      bdelleman

      Thanks for reading!

  3. cindie snyder Avatar
    cindie snyder

    Nice article! Sounds interesting to do a crossover, I love variations with other Austen characters!

    1. bdelleman Avatar
      bdelleman

      Thank you! Whenever I need an original character I see if I can borrow someone from another Austen novel 🙂

  4. Melissa Avatar
    Melissa

    Interesting discussion of how much money affects your marriageability! I really enjoyed your take on Caroline in your book too 🙂

    1. bdelleman Avatar
      bdelleman

      Thank you twice! It seems to like marrying up as a tradesman’s daughter or granddaughter (we aren’t sure who made the money), might have been the easiest way to enter the gentry.

  5. schilds Avatar
    schilds

    Very interesting, I had never really thought about it before.

    1. bdelleman Avatar
      bdelleman

      Thank you. P&P has so many unmarried girls left at the end, so I’ve always liked imagining who they might end up with!

  6. lmalden Avatar

    Thanks for such an interesting article!

    1. bdelleman Avatar
      bdelleman

      You are welcome! Thanks for reading

  7. Linny B Avatar
    Linny B

    Looking forward to reading your new story to find out the answer to the 20,000 pound question, “Who will marry Caroline Bingeley?” Or rather, “Who is desperate enough to marry CB?”
    She’s not that bad in original P&P.

    1. bdelleman Avatar
      bdelleman

      No, she isn’t that bad. She is certainly a mean girl, but we also see the worst side of her because she’s jealous of Elizabeth.

      I think she deserves a happy enough ending!

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