Lady Catherine (acting for Anne) isn’t the only one hoping to get Darcy down the aisle. Caroline Bingley would like nothing better than to snag Mr. D..
He’s rich — much richer than her brother — and he comes from old money with a landed estate. Caroline’s rich too, she has 20,000 pounds. But the Bingley’s money comes from Trade. They don’t even have an estate — which is why Charles rents Netherfield in the first place. Buying an estate would raise their rank, but Charles has yet to get around to doing so.
Darcy is uncomfortable around strangers — advantage Caroline. She is the only single woman of his station in the area. Although she, and Mrs. Hurst (her sister), proclaim Jane to be a sweet girl, she’s quick to cut down every one and everything else in Meryton. It’s kind of schtick.
What she intends as wit comes off as snobbery. At first Darcy plays along. But by the time Lizzie is staying at Netherfield (while Jane recovers from her cold) he has had enough.
“Eliza Bennet,” said Miss Bingley…`is one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own, and with many men, I dare say, it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”
“Undoubtedly,” replied Darcy, to whom this remark was chiefly addressed, “there is meanness in all the arts which ladies sometimes condescend to employ for captivation. Whatever bears affinity to cunning is despicable.”
“Caroline was probably a more of a humorous figure at the time the book was written.” Says Karen Hornig, “She is the embodiment of the snobbery of the nouveau riche. Her family is not landed gentry… and yet she holds herself out as superior to the Bennets. The irony of her disdain for the Gardiners (also in trade) would not have been lost on contemporary readers of the novel.”
The tables have definitely turned on her by the time every one arrives at Pemberly, but poor Caroline can not seem to keep her foot out of her mouth. Intending to discompose Lizzie she brings up the militia, and by implication, Wickham. But that only serves to alarm Darcy on his sister’s part. Caroline’s scheme backfires and “The very circumstance which had been designed to turn his thoughts from Elizabeth, seemed to have fixed them on her more, and more cheerfully.”
Austen uses both characters to ding Darcy’s high-handed pride. In the famous letter he points to Lizzie’s family’s “total want of propriety” but some of HIS family and friends are just act just as inappropriately.
Perhaps Austen is being severe upon the these two wealthy members of her own sex, but some one has to be the bad guy. And as a reader it is delicious to see these two manipulative, snobby women loose the game, even when they are playing by their own rules.