Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley get short shrift in Austen criticism. Although Elizabeth admittedly provides the narrative voice of Pride and Prejudice, and she and Mr. Darcy are central to its action, Jane functions as more than Elizabeth’s confidante, Mr. Bingley as more than the friend who brings Darcy into Elizabeth’s neighborhood. Indeed, the importance of their roles as foils to the more celebrated characters of the novel has been underestimated, and they do not deserve the dismissal or disdain many scholars give them. Marvin Mudrick, for example, says Jane and Bingley are “simple” and “of secondary order” (105); Sally B. Palmer considers Bingley to be no more than Darcy’s “comic sidekick” and “also-ran”; and Denise Blue calls Jane “a personified Virtue (to a comically exaggerated extreme)” (33). Alex Woloch, furthermore, pits Elizabeth against her sisters: all five are in the same predicament (in need of a good marriage to save them from the consequences of an entailed estate) but only Elizabeth, he says, is interesting in her own right; the other four are “depicted as much less interesting, less thoughtful, less cultured, and, ultimately, simply as less” (46). Perhaps most telling, a search of the MLA International Bibliography focusing on these characters yields only five articles about Jane or Bingley and more than ten times as many for Elizabeth or Darcy.1 Thus, even when they are not denigrated, Jane and Bingley have been largely ignored.
It has not always been this way. In 1813 a contemporary reviewer wrote, “Instead of the whole interest of the tale hanging upon one or two characters, as is generally the case in novels, the fair author of the present introduces us, at once, to a whole family, every individual of which excites the interest, and very agreeably divides the attention of the reader” (Rev. 318–19). A little more than a century later, E. M. Forster wrote that “all the Jane Austen characters are ready for an extended life, . . . and that is why they lead their actual lives so satisfactorily” (115). And some fifty years ago, Bernard J. Paris added, “Austen’s fiction owes much of its appeal . . . to [her characters’] lifelikeness and complexity” (Character 17).
As in any novel, of course, some characters are more developed than others. Alex Woloch suggests that all of Austen’s characters begin with the potential to become fully realized but are either rounded or flattened by the narrative structure of the novel. Surely Lady Lucas’s young son, who argues with Mrs. Bennet about drinking a daily bottle of wine, and freckled Miss King, who is saved from Mr. Wickham’s mercenary love-making, are flattened characters. But while I cannot agree with the early reviewer that all five Bennet sisters are of equal interest, each is distinctly and realistically drawn. With this in mind, I find it surprising that Woloch seldom distinguishes Jane from Kitty, Mary, and Lydia when the narrative clearly does so: Jane and Elizabeth share a sisterly bond beyond that which binds the rest. In fact, I would argue that the friendships between Jane and Elizabeth and between Bingley and Darcy are crucial to both the narrative and thematic structure of the novel, as are the romances between both couples. In this, I agree with Marilyn Butler, one of the few to see the contrast between the two couples as “the most central of the antitheses in the novel” (210).
My purpose here is to explore both what Austen’s novel reveals about Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley, and, in turn, what Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet reveal about the themes of Austen’s novel. As a means to this end, I use a theory of psychological type based on the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. While Jung concentrated on the extremes of psychological type, Katherine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers found his ideas useful in explaining the differences between people they knew. They expanded the theory and developed a personality test, known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to evaluate the complex and multidimensional psychological types of individuals. In applying psychological concepts to fictional characters, I am following Bernard J. Paris, who claimed that it is necessary to “try to understand [Austen’s heroines] as though they were real people” (Character 17), and Stephen Montgomery, who set a precedent for typing fictional characters in his Pygmalion Project.2 I have found that applying the principles undergirding the MBTI, when done with care, can provide insight into the attitudes and actions of Jane and Bingley, thereby demonstrating both their psychological depth and their importance to the theme of Pride and Prejudice.
Jung’s theory suggests that there are different but equally valid ways of interacting with the world (extraversion and introversion), of taking in information (sensing and intuition), and of making decisions (thinking and feeling). All people use all six of these processes on a regular basis, but most people seem to be more comfortable with one or the other of the two processes in each pair. In addition, some people prefer taking in information (perception) and some making decisions (judging). The judging/perceptive dimension also determines which of the four functions—sensing, intuition, thinking, or feeling—is directed outward and, together with the introversion/extraversion dimension, which is dominant and which auxiliary. The categories of extraversion, introversion, sensing, intuition, feeling, and thinking are Jung’s; judgment and perception, though implicit in Jung’s work, were first defined by Briggs and Myers. The eight preferences are abbreviated with the following letters: introversion (I), extraversion (E), sensing (S), intuition (N), thinking (T), feeling (F), perception (P), and judgment (J), and types are written as combinations of these letters, such as ESTJ or INFP. None of these preferences limits a person’s—or a character’s—choices, but together they can help explain the rich and varied interactions of the human psyche, both internally and in relation to the outside world.
Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy, with their “great opposition of character” (PP 17), illustrate the differences between these “preferences,” as they are usually called, remarkably well; type-wise, in fact, they are direct opposites. For starters, Mr. Darcy is the epitome of an introvert, while Mr. Bingley could be a poster child for extraverts. Extraverts are not necessarily more personable than introverts, but their social circles tend to be larger and more easily expandable. At the Meryton ball, his first social event after arriving at Netherfield, Bingley “soon [makes] himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room,” while Darcy dances and speaks only with those “of his own party” (11). At a later dinner party, Sir William Lucas surprises Darcy while he is “too much engrossed by his own thoughts” to notice his approach (28); this inner focus of concentration is likewise introverted. By contrast, Mr. Bingley’s extroverted attention to and eagerness to be with people, of both new and old acquaintance, is evident throughout the book, as is his openness and easiness in human relations.
Regarding the other three MBTI dimensions, a telling scene occurs early in the novel when Mrs. Bennet fishes for information about the permanence of Mr. Bingley’s residence at Netherfield. Despite assuring her that he has no present intention to leave, Bingley claims, “‘Whatever I do is done in a hurry, . . . and therefore if I should resolve to quit Netherfield, I should probably be off in five minutes’” (46), which Darcy disputes later that evening:
“I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such celerity. . . . [I]f, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, ‘Bingley, you had better stay till next week,’ you would probably do it, . . . and, at another word, might stay a month.” (53)
Elizabeth jumps in to defend Bingley: “‘To yield readily—easily—to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you,’” she says to Darcy; “‘To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either,’” he replies (54).
This exchange highlights several differences in personality. First, Elizabeth and Darcy’s hypothetical discussion itself is a typical intuitive pastime. Bingley, a sensing type, soon becomes impatient and interrupts it. Additional evidence for Bingley’s sensing preference can be found in his remarkable memory for facts: when he and Elizabeth meet again after eight months he recalls the exact date of the last time they had met (and he had seen Jane). Also, his solicitude for Jane when she is ill at Netherfield includes attention to details such as piling up the fire and desiring Jane to move farther from the door and the draft.
Second, the implication that “‘friendship and affection’” (54) would influence Bingley’s decision making reflects a preference for feeling, while Darcy’s insistence upon impartial conviction bespeaks a preference for thinking. Similarly, Bingley is pleased by Elizabeth’s long, muddy walk to Netherfield because it “‘shews an affection for her sister’” (39), but Darcy, who values thinking, is (initially) unimpressed. Bingley’s assertion that he “‘dislike[s] an argument’” (55) also reflects his feeling preference.
Finally, Mr. Bingley portrays himself as spontaneous, as is typical of perceptive types, while Mr. Darcy, a judging type, favors more deliberate planning: “‘[W]hat is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone?’” (53). Also, perceptive Bingley changes his opinions according to his location: “‘When I am in the country, . . . I never wish to leave it; and when I am in town it is pretty much the same’” (47). Darcy’s judgments are more fixed: he says that his “‘good opinion once lost is lost forever’” (63). To sum up, Darcy is an INTJ (Introverted Intuition with thinking); Bingley, an ESFP (Extraverted Sensing with feeling).
Unlike Darcy and Bingley, who are complete opposites, Jane and Elizabeth Bennet share two out of four preferences. Another scene involving Bingley’s move to London—this time real rather than hypothetical—illustrates both what they share and how they differ. When Jane receives the letter from Caroline Bingley announcing her intention to stay in town and hinting at her brother’s supposed interest in Georgiana Darcy, she confides in her sister:
“Is it not clear enough?—Does it not expressly declare that Caroline . . . is perfectly convinced of her brother’s indifference, and that if she suspects the nature of my feelings for him, she means (most kindly!) to put me on my guard? Can there be any other opinion on the subject?”
“Yes, there can; for mine is totally different. . . . Miss Bingley sees that her brother is in love with you, and wants him to marry Miss Darcy. She follows him to town in the hope of keeping him there, and tries to persuade you that he does not care about you.” (132–33)
Jane is not convinced. As a sensing type, she is much less likely than intuitive Lizzy to read between the lines. Moreover, her willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt stems in part from her preference for perception, while Elizabeth prefers judging. This latter distinction between them, in fact, comes up repeatedly. When Elizabeth tells her Wickham’s story of Mr. Darcy’s abominable treatment, Jane says, “‘One does not know what to think,’” while Elizabeth responds, “‘I beg your pardon;—one knows exactly what to think’” (96). It is important to note, however, that neither sister—and neither preference—has a monopoly on truth. Elizabeth may be right about Caroline Bingley, but Jane is correct about there being unknown “‘causes or circumstances’” that are “‘impossible for us to conjecture’” behind Mr. Darcy’s treatment of Wickham (95), as Lizzy later learns to her chagrin (see Butler 211).3
Despite these differences, Jane and Elizabeth share their two remaining preferences. They are both introverts, as demonstrated by their confiding in one another but not often in others. The two sisters likewise share a preference for feeling. While Jane considers Caroline’s warning to be a kindness, and Lizzy sees it as cruel, both evaluate the situation based more on values than on logic. And throughout the novel we witness Jane’s sympathy for others. When Lydia returns to Longbourn after her unorthodox marriage, for example, Jane “gave Lydia the feelings which would have attended herself, had she been the culprit, [and] was wretched in the thought of what her sister must endure” (348). (Lydia, we know, was not so overcome.)
Putting Jane’s four preferences together, we find that she is an ISFP (Introverted Feeling with sensing). Isabel Myers notes that this type is “tolerant, open-minded, flexible, and adaptable. If one of their inner loyalties is threatened though, they will not give an inch” (Introduction 16). This is because the ISFP judging function—feeling—is both dominant and introverted, meaning that it is seldom seen by the outside world but strong when it surfaces. Both Jane’s flexibility and her firmness are evident when she determines to leave Netherfield after her illness: Bingley persuades her to stay one day more, but not beyond, because “Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right” (66).
As an ESFP, Mr. Bingley differs from Jane on only one dimension, his extraverted orientation to life. Thus we can wholeheartedly agree with Elizabeth’s approbation of their marriage as one based on “a general similarity of feeling and taste between her and himself” (385) and smile at Mr. Bennet’s pronouncement: “‘I have not a doubt of your doing very well together. Your tempers are by no means unlike. You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income’” (386). Complying, easy, and generous are perfect descriptive words for a pair of SFPs. Indeed, it is hard to imagine two people who are nicer than Jane Bennet and Mr. Bingley—or two who are better suited for one another.
Ironically, however, the very dimensions of their types that make them so well suited also prevent their engagement from taking place earlier in the novel. The attachment between them, which seemed to Mrs. Bennet so promising, is delayed when Bingley goes to London on business and is persuaded by his sisters and Darcy not to return to Netherfield (and the attractions of his neighbour at Longbourn) for a period of more than eight months. The effects of psychological type in this event are worth looking at.
Jane’s character is such that her affections are strong but not easily apparent. Feeling, her dominant function, is introverted; therefore she keeps her feelings inside, as Elizabeth knows: “Jane united with great strength of feeling, a composure of temper and a uniform cheerfulness of manner, which would guard her from the suspicions of the impertinent” (23). Elizabeth dismisses Charlotte Lucas’s warning that Jane’s affection may be hidden from Bingley as well as from the world, but Charlotte is right in this case. Elizabeth eventually acknowledges that “Jane’s feelings, though fervent, were little displayed” (231), which perfectly fits Isabel Myers’s description of I-FPs: “They wear their warm side inside, like a fur-lined coat” (Gifts 97). Lizzy is privy to Jane’s inner warmth—“When Jane and Elizabeth were alone, the former, who had been cautious in her praise of Mr. Bingley before, expressed to her sister how very much she admired him” (15)—but Bingley and Darcy are not. Bingley is further hampered by his preference for sensing. Intuitive Darcy, though he judges too quickly the first time, recognizes Jane’s affection before Bingley does upon their return to Longbourn.
Extraverted Bingley’s affection for Jane is more apparent: “It was generally evident whenever they met that he did admire her” (23). When Darcy takes the time to observe his friend, he sees “‘that his partiality for Miss Bennet was beyond what I had ever witnessed in him’” (219). As a perceptive type, however, Bingley, like Jane, extraverts his sensing and introverts his feeling. Thus, despite his more open character, his feelings are unclear enough to allow Jane to say, “‘It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us. Women fancy admiration means more than it does’” (154). His admiration is clear; his intentions remain hidden.
Ironically, it is not the vanity that Jane cites which deceives her, but her own modesty. Isabel Briggs Myers says that ISFPs “consistently tend to underestimate and understate themselves. Probably ISFP is the most modest type” (Gifts 99). Such modesty is evident when Jane says of Bingley, “‘I was very much flattered by his asking me to dance a second time. I did not expect such a compliment’” (15). When Bingley leaves, modest Jane assumes that the mistake has been made on her part, that “‘it has not been more than an error of fancy on my side’” (152). Such a reaction is entirely true to type.
A similar sentiment prompts Bingley to stay away. Darcy claims, “‘Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on my judgment than on his own’” (221). Apparently, Bingley has not developed—or does not trust—his auxiliary judging function. He is easily convinced that he has been mistaken about Jane’s regard, and once so convinced, easily manipulated. Isabel Myers says that ES-Ps “never fight the facts: instead they accept and use them. They do not uselessly buck the line” (Gifts 101). Darcy admits that Bingley’s belief in Jane’s indifference kept him from Netherfield, whereas Darcy’s description of “‘the certain evils of such a choice’” in marriage never could (221). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Bingley proposes soon after Darcy confesses his interference and expresses his conviction that Jane does in fact care for him. As to why Bingley waits two and a half days after Darcy’s revelation to propose, he may have been trying to judge Jane’s feelings for himself, having just learned that Mr. Darcy’s judgments are not infallible. (Notably, Jane is still feigning indifference to herself until the second day.) Bingley may also have been awaiting an opportunity. While we may disapprove of Mrs. Bennet’s methods, as Lizzy does, we must acknowledge that proposing is harder in company than alone.
The happy resolution of Jane and Bingley’s relationship is necessary to the novel’s denouement because it removes Elizabeth’s second main objection to Mr. Darcy—that he “‘has been the means of ruining, . . . the happiness of a most beloved sister’” (213)—but it is also crucial because the two parallel courtships together provide insight into the theme of the novel: pride and prejudice. As with the primary romantic plot, the novel’s commentary on these attributes seems to focus upon Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Excessive reliance on one’s own ability to judge can be considered a form of pride, and stubborn adherence to first impressions easily leads to prejudice, which Isabel Myers tellingly defines as “a pre-judgment impervious to perception” (Gifts 70). In truth, both Darcy’s pride and Lizzy’s prejudice (and Darcy’s prejudice and Lizzy’s pride) derive from being quick to judge without waiting for all the facts.4 But just as an overreliance on judging causes problems for Elizabeth and Darcy, an overreliance on perception hinders Jane and Bingley.
Jane and Bingley, in fact, amply demonstrate what happens when one does not have enough pride or prejudice. Their mutual modesty allows each to doubt the other’s affection, and their lack of prejudice leads them to accept others’ opinions without questioning their motives or sincerity. Palmer calls this trait an “unattractive gullibility” that places Bingley among those “who lack the potential to become heroes of their own lives.” While this assessment seems overly harsh, it does fit Isabel Myers’s observation that “perception without judgment is spineless” (Gifts 182). Thus, just as Elizabeth and Darcy must learn not to rely solely on their first impressions, Jane and Bingley must learn to judge and to act. And they each make some progress in this area over the course of the novel: Jane is no longer deceived by Caroline Bingley’s hypocrisy, for example, and Bingley finally purchases his own estate.
Alex Woloch points out that the asymmetry in this novel’s characterizations allow rounded characters to be juxtaposed with flattened ones in ways that contribute to the novel’s thematic structure (43). In this regard, I find it interesting that Jane, Elizabeth, Bingley, and Darcy are all explicitly contrasted with—and separated from—family members. When Darcy, in his pivotal letter to Elizabeth, accuses her family of a “‘total want of propriety,’” he excludes the two eldest sisters from “‘any share of the like censure’” (220); Mr. Bennet makes a similar distinction between his first two daughters and their “‘three very silly sisters’” (257). Upon meeting Mr. Bingley and his sisters, Elizabeth concludes that “‘their manners are not equal to his’” (16). And Darcy is explicitly juxtaposed with Lady Catherine at Rosings, when he “looked a little ashamed of his aunt’s ill breeding” (195) at her offer of an out-of-the-way piano for Elizabeth to practice upon.
Thus, these four central figures are set off from the other characters in the novel, giving them the narrative space both to interact and to be contrasted with one another as the two couples progress towards the nearly concurrent fulfillment of their complementary, albeit asymmetrical, romantic plots.5 As they do so, Jane Bennet and Charles Bingley function admirably as foils for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, further illustrating the complexity of the qualities of pride and prejudice in their positive as well as their negative aspects. This they do as fully realized, lifelike characters—that hallmark of Austen’s fiction.
1Of these five articles, two are quoted in this paragraph, two discuss the painting that Austen identified as being of Mrs. Bingley, and the last postulates that Mr. Bingley’s fortune was made in the textile industry.
2Paris’s approach is based on the work of Karen Horney on neurosis; in his chapter on Pride and Prejudice, he focuses on the defense strategies used in the interactions between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Montgomery uses literary characters to illustrate elements of type theory, while I use type theory to better understand literary characters, but the principles are similar. The characters he types include Mrs. Bennet, whom I agree is an ESFJ, and Elizabeth, whom he types as an INTJ but I believe to be an INFJ. It should also be noted that typing fictional characters is a popular internet pastime but is not always done well. For character typing to be valid and valuable, in my view, three things must be true: 1) the typing must be grounded in theory and based on carefully considered textual evidence; 2) it must look at each character individually and not try to fill all the boxes (as not all 16 types will be represented in every book or character set); and 3) it must open up our understanding of the character in some meaningful way. My father, Marvin Rytting, and I presented our research on the validity of character typing (using Austen’s Emma) at the annual meeting of the Association of Psychological Type International in July 2017.
5On the last day of an Austen seminar I taught recently, I informally surveyed the students about their favorite characters. Not surprisingly, Mr. Darcy was the class’s favorite romantic hero, but it is notable that Mr. Bingley came in second, before any of the men from Austen’s other novels.