Twice in the book we are told about Darcy’s wishes for Bingley’s marriage to Georgiana. Once by Caroline, the second time by the omniscient narrator.
This is the one thing about Darcy people have the most trouble to believe in, even though Austen said so. One can think it in the first part of the book, but in the second, when one already knows what a great man Darcy is, an arranged marriage of his sister seems out of character.
Darcy could have his reasons. I know that people love to think that theirs was the best siblings ever, but clearly Georgiana is quite a burden. No one would say today about a 15 year old running away from home with her boyfriend that she and her parents have a great connection. Why would it differ back then?
From Elizabeth’s conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam it seems that it’s pretty much the case:
“I imagine your cousin brought you down with him chiefly for the sake of having somebody at his disposal. I wonder he does not marry, to secure a lasting convenience of that kind. But, perhaps his sister does as well for the present, and, as she is under his sole care, he may do what he likes with her.”
“No,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam, “that is an advantage which he must divide with me. I am joined with him in the guardianship of Miss Darcy.”
“Are you, indeed? And pray what sort of guardians do you make? Does your charge give you much trouble? Young ladies of her age are sometimes a little difficult to manage, and if she has the true Darcy spirit, she may like to have her own way.”
As she spoke, she observed him looking at her earnestly, and the manner in which he immediately asked her why she supposed Miss Darcy likely to give them any uneasiness, convinced her that she had somehow or other got pretty near the truth.
The conversation begins with the notion that Darcy might indeed do what he likes with his sister, but quickly hops to the difficult to manage young lady with the true Darcy spirit.
Perhaps then Darcy’s idea to avoid further troubles was to marry her off as soon as possible. After all it’s not normal that he plans a marriage of his 15 years old sister. She’s not even out, and she shouldn’t be until she is 17-18. Bingley would be a good candidate. No, not a great catch, Georgiana could win much more on the wedding market, but Bingley is a trusted friend, kind and generous, Darcy knows he wouldn’t harm her.
Yet, for such a romantic hero, to plot a marriage is undignified. What’s worse it’d seem that he had plotted it with Caroline behind Bingley’s back, which seems very much out of character. Yes, Darcy did some cunning when Jane showed up in town, but he was ashamed of it, he thought it beneath him. There is no reason to think he had done it ever before when there was no such a necessity. Is there another explanation then? Yes, there is.
It’s not pleasant to trust the words of the unlikable characters, yet, in truth, there’s no reason to doubt them. It seems that none of them ever says a lie. Caroline’s words should then be taken seriously:
Mr. Darcy is impatient to see his sister, and to confess the truth, we are scarcely less eager to meet her again. I really do not think Georgiana Darcy has her equal for beauty, elegance, and accomplishments; and the affection she inspires in Louisa and myself is heightened into something still more interesting, from the hope we dare to entertain of her being hereafter our sister. I do not know whether I ever before mentioned to you my feelings on this subject, but I will not leave the country without confiding them, and I trust you will not esteem them unreasonable. My brother admires her greatly already, he will have frequent opportunity now of seeing her on the most intimate footing, her relations all wish the connection as much as his own, and a sister’s partiality is not misleading me, I think, when I call Charles most capable of engaging any woman’s heart. With all these circumstances to favour an attachment and nothing to prevent it, am I wrong, my dearest Jane, in indulging the hope of an event which will secure the happiness of so many?
There’s no doubt that Caroline composed her letter in a shrewed way designed to hurt Jane, but what is interesting for the purpose of this post is that she says: My brother admires her greatly already! She’s not so sure about Georgiana’s feelings, but seems certain about Bingley’s.
Of course the reader is with Lizzy. A man so much in love with Jane could not fall with another in a matter of weeks. But, and here’s the great but I’ve been approaching, Darcy writes in his letter to Elizabeth:
I had often seen him in love before.
There! Shouldn’t one wonder in love with whom?
Why even say something like that? In his letter Darcy tries not to blacken his friend’s character, why then mention that falling in love is a frequent occurrence for Bingley? Or does that mean something else? Could it mean that Darcy had often seen him in love before because he had a frequent opportunity to observe his friend in one particular case?
Darcy’s plan for Georgiana and Bingley’s marriage is the only thing not cleared up in his letter. Yet Austen took care to confirm it just at the time readers became convinced that it had to be nonexistent and only a figment of Caroline’s imagination. Then indeed Austen says:
[Darcy] had certainly formed such a plan, and without meaning that it should affect his endeavour to separate him from Miss Bennet, it is probable that it might add something to his lively concern for the welfare of his friend.
Perhaps then Darcy does clear up that one thing in his letter as well, and when he says “I had often seen him in love before.” he means his being previously convinced of Bingley’s being in love with his sister.
Let us imagine then the rather obvious scenario:
Georgiana nearly elopes with Wickham. Darcy prevents it and takes her to Pemberley. According to Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy spent the entire summer with Bingley.
There Georgiana cures her broken heart, and while at it she and Bingley become closer. She plays, sings, and draws, and Bingley is charmed (he’ll later say that all young ladies play, sing etc, just when Caroline will begin to praise Miss Darcy in front of Lizzy).
Caroline might not be certain of Georgiana’s affections, but Darcy would know his sister better, and since Georgiana could be charmed by such a Wickham, surely the kind, cheerful and attentive Bingley could succeed as easily. Georgiana seems to be in the need of someone else’s care.
The natural move for Darcy would be to wait a little longer, and that’s what he seems to be doing. Georgiana can return to her establishment in London for now, and if the feelings on both sides can withstood the trial of time it means they’re a match.
The last time Caroline saw Georgiana was the previous spring. Likely just before Darcy sent his sister to Ramsgate. It couldn’t have been much of an acquaintance or Caroline would feel at freedom to correspond with her dear friend, instead of asking Darcy to convey her regards. But Bingley must have seen much more of her.
The men might have never talked about it, but the summer ends and they all go to London. Caroline is glad to hear Bingley praise Miss Darcy so often, and likely it’s when Darcy gives her to understand that he approves of the match.
Now, that shows Darcy in quite a different light. He’s not the one who plots with Caroline behind his friend and sister’s back, but the one who approves and cheers their happy union desired by all.
Naturally, if a man like Bingley wants to propose to one Miss Darcy of Pemberley he must have a house. Isn’t it interesting that Bingley rents Netherfield so suddenly?
They go to Hertfordshire and all seems well, but Bingley meets Jane. Yet Darcy seems unsuspicious.
But it was not till the evening of the dance at Netherfield that I had any apprehension of his feeling a serious attachment. —
Then he must choose between his own sister and Jane. He does the obvious. He observes Jane without meaning that his concern for his own sister should bias him against her. Austen says as much, repeatedly.
That I was desirous of believing [Jane] indifferent is certain, — but I will venture to say that my investigations and decisions are not usually influenced by my hopes or fears.
Hopes or fears are a bit too much like for it being only his friend’s silly infatuation, unless his own sister’s feelings were at stake as well. Later Austen says it was very much so: without meaning that it should affect his endeavour to separate him from Miss Bennet, it is probable that it might add something to his lively concern for the welfare of his friend.
Darcy then does the ugly thing of separating Jane and Bingley after just an evening of observations that many readers have so much troubles to reconcile with, but he’s of a different opinion.
It is done, however, and it was done for the best. — On this subject I have nothing more to say, no other apology to offer. If I have wounded your sister’s feelings, it was unknowingly done; and though the motives which governed me may to you very naturally appear insufficient, I have not yet learnt to condemn them. —
But what of Georgiana? Lizzy seems to imitate Darcy’s actions when she meets Georgiana and observes her together with Bingley.
[S]he could not be deceived as to [Bingley’s] behaviour to Miss Darcy, who had been set up as a rival of Jane. No look appeared on either side that spoke particular regard. Nothing occurred between them that could justify the hopes of his sister. On this point she was soon satisfied;
Very well, it is likely that Lizzy is right about Bingley. Both she and Darcy see his attentions to Jane as unparalleled, but no one will convince me that Lizzy can judge Georgiana’s feelings – a shy, quiet girl’s whom she has just met – after several minutes of observations any better than Darcy could judge Jane’s after a month of acquaintance and an evening of scrutiny.
This is Austen at her greatness! Lizzy comes to Pemberley in order to have her lasting reservations about Darcy removed, and just when there does the same mistake she so much held against him. When facing the rivalry between their own sisters both want to be fair, and yet none of them can remain unprejudiced.