Caroline Bingley. For Austen fans, even hearing the name can bring up feelings varying from annoyance to revulsion. For me, the feeling I get is kind of the same as the one that shimmies up your spine when someone scrapes their nails down a chalkboard. That “Oh my gosh, why? Make it stooooop” feeling. Caroline is one of the best examples of what I call “Austen’s smack-able characters,” and she could write some pretty darn smack worthy characters (pretty much everyone in Sense and Sensibility for example)! You love to hate Caroline.
So what is Jennifer Becton thinking centering a whole entire Pride and Prejudice continuation on this smack-able, nails-down-the-chalkboard, crazy girl? I have been wondering that every since I heard Caroline Bingley was coming out. I loved Jennifer Becton’s other Personages of Pride and Prejudice novel, Charlotte Collins. I really, really loved it. I also really enjoyed her thriller Absolute Liability. I mean the woman can write . . . but CAROLINE BINGLEY? Surely, you jest.
I don’t know quite how she did it, but at the end of this book I like Caroline. Not only do I LIKE Caroline, I totally get her. I sympathize with her. I want her to succeed. I want her to be happy. Up is down . . . wrong is right . . . “Dogs and cats living together . . . MASS HYSTERIA!”
The story picks up right after the end of Pride and Prejudice with Caroline being banished to her mother’s home in the north by her brother Charles for her interference in his romance with Jane Bennet (and her refusal to apologize to Elizabeth). To Caroline, who wants only to help further her families connections in society and to find her own home, this is a truly harsh punishment.
While in the north Caroline continues to try to advance her standing in society, but her best-laid plans seem to come to naught. To make matters worse for Caroline, her brother has saddled her with a paid companion, Rosemary, a woman she cannot stand. Caroline desires to distance her family from their roots in trade, but her mother’s husband doesn’t seem to be ashamed of his trade as a bridge designer at all, and his partner, the young and handsome Mr. Rushton, has the audacity not only to not be ashamed of his trade, but to find Caroline and her machinations amusing.
Can Caroline let go of her fear long enough to find her own home? Could it be be possible that Caroline will find a true friend where she least expects? Could Mr. Rushton be any more hot? The answer to that last one is no. If he was anymore hot readers everywhere would be spontaneously combusting, and I can’t imagine Ms. Becton wants that on her conscious, so she wisely went with an appropriate level of hotness.
So here I am, all confused and feeling slightly like I’ve cheated on Lizzy Bennet by ending up liking Caroline Bingley as a character. We often forget that Caroline is so very young, that was one of the first things that struck me while I was reading this book. She tried so hard to present a sophisticated and urbane front that, I, at least, forget she was the same age as Lizzy. Also, as the reader comes to learn more about Caroline’s history as Becton presents it, and the pressure put on her by her father (intentionally or not), and how she internalized that pressure, she becomes a much more understandable and sympathetic character. I’m not saying that she is easy to love, but there is something about the difficulty in getting past those prickles that makes the reward worthwhile.
Did I mention Mr. Rushton is hot?