Excerpts demonstrating my “take” on the Bingley sisters, from my new novel
by Alice McVeigh
It amused me, in Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, to imagine Bingley’s sisters to be rather more differentiated than Austen imagined them… Caroline Bingley is still desperate for Darcy, but I imagined Louisa Hurst as rather more worldly, clever and experienced. I don’t explain this to the reader, but it’s obvious from their first exchange:
‘What you want,’ said Louisa, ‘is to efface yourself.’
‘Efface myself!’ cried her sister Caroline. ‘But why? And how? And in what regard?’
‘With regard to Darcy. I feel for him most sincerely.’
‘Because you are, subtly – yet constantly – pressurising him.’
‘I? Little I?’
‘Little you, indeed! Why, you never let the poor man be. You are like Ruth, in the Old Testament, for “whither he goest I wilt go” – though Mary and her lamb would do quite as well, for you trot along at his very heels… When, I beg, can the poor fellow ever say, “Thank God, I am alone!” with you bustling about him?’
Caroline sniffed. ‘I may be attentive, I grant, but not obtrusively so.’
‘You think so, do you? – But what you fail to consider, my dear Caroline, is that Darcy is a most private fellow. He has no desire to be hounded – he is far likelier to be beguiled by mystery. You present him with more than he wishes for. You should wait till he petitions you, instead.’
Caroline grappled with this a moment and then asked, ‘You think me rather too busy?’
‘Intolerably so. You should attempt to mirror his own moods.’
‘But – he is so provoking – he has no moods to observe! He is always the same!’
‘He has more moods than you are aware of, despite making it a point of honour to obscure them.’
‘Truly? And what do you mean by mirroring?’
‘I mean that, should he be engaged in reading, you ought to appear to be equally entranced by your own book. And when he moves about might be the best moment to propose a change. When he is thoughtful, you should give over prodding him to share whatever he might be thinking. While you should wait till he lays his correspondence aside to propose a ride – for supervising such a place as Pemberley might be as demanding as some professions.’
Caroline pursed her lips. ‘You think I dog him?’
‘Like a Pekingese.’
‘And that it fails to gratify?’
‘Quite the opposite.’
Austen leaves us to imagine the scene in which Bingley’s sisters plot with Darcy to save Charles from Jane Bennet – perhaps because it’s Darcy’s least-glorious hour. But, along with a flashback to Georgiana’s admitting to being in love with Wickham, and Darcy’s confronting Wickham over the attempted elopment, I couldn’t resist…
The events of the ball were to prove crucial at Netherfield. Nothing was said that night, but the next morning I entered the East Room to hear Louisa’s low but urgent tones, ‘Something must be done.’
Caroline said, ‘I daresay. But what?’
‘Forgive my intrusion, I beg,’ said I. ‘But perhaps you refer, Mrs Hurst, to last night, and to your brother?’
‘In that case,’ I said, ‘we are of one mind,’ as Miss Bingley’s eyes grew larger, ‘for poor Charles is as far gone as I have ever seen him. While the family –’
‘The family is utterly impossible,’ said Mrs Hurst. ‘The mother cannot be silent, even by accident. The younger sisters think of nothing but making a great noise and chasing officers from the regiment. I quite feared for the pianoforte whilst the middle girl was pounding at it – and the father seemed to find it all intensely amusing!’
‘Do not omit their cousin Collins,’ I reminded her. ‘For servile obsequiousness, he has not his equal. How my aunt can endure him, I cannot conceive!’
Caroline said eagerly, ‘Oh, I agree – I do so agree! And to dare to address you, without the slightest excuse – you, of every creature in the room! But what can be done? For Miss Bennet is modest, soft-spoken, charming – and very nearly beautiful. Small wonder poor Charles is besotted!’
‘He is worse than he was with Lady Diana,’ added her sister, ‘though she gave him no encouragement. The difficulty with Charles is that, once he has started, he will always be in love.
Jane Austen was far more interested in the Bennets than in the Bingleys. But I enjoyed imagining Bingley’s sisters dismay upon spotting Jane Bennet at a London theatre, when she is visiting with the Gardiners after Christmas…
‘Oh heavens, it is she – it is Jane Bennet. It is indeed!’
‘Ah, there she is, between her aunt and uncle, I suppose. I cannot think that Charles will notice, however, for it is such a crowd.’
‘But she might call on us!’
‘I expect she will – and, if she does, why then you must receive her.’
Louisa sighed. ‘Heavens, Caroline, must I tell you every single thing? – And then, you must be very polite but rather chilly, and talk about the weather.’
‘What, in heaven’s name, is the point of discussing the weather?
‘Because the weather leads to nothing and ends nowhere.’
‘How I wish you would speak sensibly!’
‘I fear – but it is, after all,my only fault – I can speak in no other fashion! What I mean is that you must say nothing of any importance, and then, if Miss Bennet has still not departed, pretend to another engagement. You must be perfectly polite but exceedingly formal, and thank her a great deal for coming, without showing the slightest interest in anything she says. Miss Bennet, after all, is not a stupid creature. She will realise that, though she was acceptable enough while we were buried in darkest Hertfordshire, here in town why, the Bennets simply will not do! And, with any luck, she will not call a second time.’
‘But that does not signify, for I shall be obliged to return her call.’
‘Indeed you will. But during the visit, in whichever godforsaken corner of Cheapside her uncle might reside, you will talk, and quite remorselessly, about the weather.’
(Some chapters later…)
‘It was so good of you to call,’ said Miss Bingley. ‘I had not the slightest notion you were in town!’
‘I have not been here above a week. I believe that I saw you at the Little Theatre?’
‘Very likely. The weather has been particularly clement, for the time of year.’
‘Indeed,’ said Jane.
‘I understand that it may turn, quite shortly.’
‘Perhaps it may.’
‘A pity. Though I understand that the crops need rain.’
‘The crops?’ inquired poor Jane.
‘The crops,’ said Miss Bingley, ‘are, or so I understand, greatly in need of rain.’
Of course, the principal couple must the focus of any variation – though my own is dominating by the hero even more than the heroine. Here is the excerpt from Darcy’s diaries, written just after meeting Elizabeth again, so unexpectedly, at Pemberley:
The walk – the radiance of the day, the proximity of her beauty – still held a hallucinatory quality. I was also privately frustrated in my attempt to get a fuller view of her countenance than she seemed to wish to allow. I could hardly take in what she said for wondering about deeper things! And at the conclusion, though I invited her relatives to return indoors, for I wished to show them every possible attention, I was relieved by their refusal. I needed space and time in which to absorb the strangeness of it all. All evening, I could not stop thinking of her. My impatience for the arrival of the rest might be imagined, for the excuse Georgiana afforded to call upon her.
Of course, I could not help recollecting that Miss Bingley would be among the party and that Miss Eliza was perfectly acquainted with the role she played in separating Charles from Jane Bennet. But I can rely on her discretion. I can also depend upon Georgiana, if prompted, to make the proper invitations. How fortunate it is that the Gardiners have but just arrived in Lambton! – There is much that might be attempted – and attempt it I shall.
At least she no longer seems to despise me. There is a great gulf fixed between detestation and love, and her feelings seem somewhere in the middle, but I cannot rest until I know, one way or another, whether there is the slightest chance for me. Because, if today has taught me anything, then it is this: she must have a thousand choices, a thousand men who would long to marry her – but my only hope of happiness lies in that swift dark glance and that light, graceful form. Should she refuse me twice then I shall be obliged to marry – as I vowed I never would – for dynasty alone.
For I can only ever love Elizabeth Bennet.
(McVeigh’s Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, last week was named the winner of Pencraft’s Best Summer Reads Book Awards. It was released less than a month ago on Kindle Unlimited.)
Feel free to get back to me about Bingley and his sisters!!! All the best, Alice (McVeigh)