Miss Bingley Requests
Pride and Prejudice told from the perspective of one of the villains of the piece sounded interesting, so I picked up Judy McCrosky’s Miss Bingley Requests. It was an unusual read that actually made me feel for the main character (can’t exactly call her a heroine) and I kept wondering how it would end.
Not well, but I’ll get to that later. As the story begins, Charles Bingley has settled on a estate, Netherfield Park, though Caroline is not keen on the prospect of meeting the rustics and bumpkins of the countryside. Still, this will only be temporary. Once Mr. Darcy proposes to her, she’ll be the mistress of Pemberley.
Some books take villains and show them to be merely misunderstood, but that doesn’t happen here. It’s clear that Caroline is superficial, vain, and not overburdened with brains, which makes it so much fun to read about Elizabeth’s interactions with Darcy from Caroline’s perspective. Since Caroline takes great pains to show Darcy how respectful and agreeable she is (see what a good wife she’ll make?), she’s stunned at Elizabeth’s impertinence. Caroline is also bewildered as to why Darcy puts up with the irritating chit – and worse, seems to almost admire her at times.
Caroline is one of those people so constrained by conventions that she doesn’t know how to cope with those who bend them – and worse, enjoy the experience. She’s never even felt any attraction to the man she wants to marry.
She thought about Mr. Darcy and tried to remember in being in his presence had ever brought on shortness of breath or a pain in her chest, but could not recall any such experience. No doubt if she had felt anything similar, she would have retired to her bed with a hot water bottle at her feet.
But soon she happens to meet a young man who does make her feel that way. Her friend Lady Eleanor Amesbury introduces her to Mr. Stephen Tryphon. Although Lady Amesbury is strangely reticent about his origins, family, land, etc., when Mr. Tryphon is talking to Caroline, he never stares out of the window as Mr. Darcy does. And even when she isn’t perfectly gowned and coiffed, Mr. Tryphon looks at her as though she’s the most beautiful woman in the room.
There’s something poignant about seeing genuine feeling from the point of view of a woman who has never experienced romance before. But the unpleasant side of Caroline’s character is depicted so vividly that although I suspended disbelief, I did wonder what Mr. Tryphon saw in her, other than her loyalty towards her sister and her exhaustive knowledge of social norms.
There’s also the question of what Lady Amesbury and Mr. Tryphon hope to gain from this. Darcy is very suspicious of these two, to the point where I wondered if Mr. Tryphon would turn out to be another Wickham, but this part of the plot fizzled out.
As did the end of the story, unfortunately. Caroline has constructed her whole life on a fantasy where she’ll marry Darcy and be mistress of Pemberley, so her shock at the P&P developments comes off as very real. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet? And she refused him? With the world splitting apart, Caroline struggles to make sense of this – Elizabeth had the chance to live Caroline’s dream, meaning Elizabeth is indeed as grasping and manipulative as Caroline knew she was. But in that case, why did Elizabeth refuse the luxury and social cachet of Pemberley?
Poor Caroline. You can see the hamster inside her head spinning around madly in its wheel and getting nowhere.
Without giving away spoilers, since this book mirrors its inspiration, once Elizabeth accepts Darcy’s second proposal, there isn’t much left of Caroline’s story. She also doesn’t grow as a person other than accepting her fate, and I found this disappointing. I wasn’t expecting a romance, but I did hope for an ending with as much pep and humor as some of the earlier scenes.
That said, Miss Bingley Requests was still entertaining in many ways, and not just for Austen-philes. Sometimes it’s refreshing to read about a person who’s her own worst enemy. If you can overlook the damp squib of the ending, you might enjoy this book, so it gets a cautious recommendation.