The character of Sir Benjamin Backbite in The School for Scandal is an arrogant, insincere socialite who is the nephew of Crabtree. They often go about making trouble together. As his name implies, one of his principal features is hypocrisy; he is constantly conniving to take advantage of people to whom he is friendly in person. Backbite is intent on marrying Maria—but for money rather than for love. He has no success with his efforts to interfere with her affection for Charles Surface. She is not only committed to Charles, but finds Backbite “disagreeable” and thinks his uncle is “odious.” Overall, he is portrayed as an unpleasant person with no redeeming qualities.
Backbite’s favorite pastime is spreading gossip, and he also dabbles at writing poetry. In these verses, which he intends to be witty, he finds entertainment in mocking other people’s foibles. Backbite is part of the social circle around Mrs. Sneerwell, a major purveyor of gossip, and visits her with Crabtree. When she wonders why he does not publish the poems, he admits that his work “is very vulgar” and that he generally circulates his “satires and lampoons” to the subjects’ friends. She supports his goal of breaking up Maria and Charles, with whom she wants to have an affair.