Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (2016)
* Chapter 4 *
First Names, Nicknames, Titles, and Rank
First Names: Statements of Value
“What’s in a name?” Juliet Capulet asserts that a name, a mere verbal label, is unimportant. The opposite theory is espoused by Sterne’s Walter Shandy, who believes “that there was a strange kind of magick bias, which good or bad names … irresistibly impress’d upon our characters and conduct.” Many men, Walter believes, “might have done exceeding well … had not their characters and spirits been totally depress’d and NICODEMUS’D into nothing.”1Alastair Fowler reminds us that this issue was raised in Plato’s Cratylus, where Cratylus who believes names signify real qualities in the person argues with Hermogenes who thinks them artificial.2 When he changed the name of shy young Tyrtamos, illegitimate son of a dry cleaner, to Theophrastus (“divine speaker”), Aristotle seems to have believed in the psychological value of names to their wearer.
Walter Shandy’s opinion is the view of all novelists in making up names for characters—they must be significant. In what we call “real life” a label affixed by parents—a “given name”—is not supposed an essence. Yet it can be experienced as an archetype of the self. Names depend upon religion, ethnicity, region of origin, and lineage; they relate also to political orientation and fashion. At different times, groups have moved toward the now standard Western custom of two names. In England until the late twentieth century the common term for a “first name” was “Christian name,” assuming that every individual was a Christian from his or her christening (though not all Protestants practice infant baptism). Within the Catholic (and Anglican) tradition a child should be named after a saint. Governments have often backed up acceptable names or ruled on the unacceptable.3 English Jews were expected to employ the Standard English spelling and pronunciation of recognizable Old Testament names.
Middle names, now common, were largely reserved for aristocracy and royalty. Jane Austen’s siblings Henry, Cassandra, and Francis all were given middle names, while the other children were not. Cassandra’s middle name was Elizabeth—which may explain jokes against Queen Elizabeth in Austen’s early fiction and the bossiness of her characters named “Elizabeth”—most of them eldest sisters.
The Conquest had rapidly altered English first names:
The Norman-French names given by apparently English people to their children were generally the names most commonly used by the Normans … : Geoffrey, Gilbert, Henry, Robert, Peter, John etc. and the women’s names Agnes, Alice and Maud. (Reaney & Wilson, xxi)
By Austen’s time a few of these old standard names had been dropped. Anglo-Saxon kingly names like “Edward” and “Edmund” had remained in continuous use, but many Anglo-Saxon names seemed rough and strange. “Matilda” (“honourable lady of the maids”)4 introduced by Normans, perhaps seemed Germanic—and besides, Queen Matilda was associated with a civil war; her name survived better in the common “Tilly” (Reaney & Wilson, 303). Austen in early works uses “Matilda,” which also appears in the spoof Gothic tale spun by Henry Tilney. The names of Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart kings remained permanently acceptable, and so did their Eleanors and Margarets, but some noble ladies’ names, like “Adela,” “Edith,” or “Philippa,” drop out by the eighteenth century. Biblical names were acceptable over centuries; glossaries of the meanings of Hebrew names often accompanied a Bible.
The rise of Puritanism in England marks a change in naming. Terms for moral and spiritual qualities, like “Patience” or “Salvation,” were attached to humans. That strong observer William Camden notes the trend, in evidence before 1605, registering displeasure at such “singular and precise conceit.”5 The custom becomes more aggressive during the Civil War period. Names of minor Old Testament characters (e.g., “Jedediah”) were called into use, and Catholic saints’ names discarded. In reaction, Anglicans of the eighteenth century strenuously avoid any Puritan tinge. They never employ “Mercy,” “Faith,” or “Prudence.” Formerly acceptable Old Testament names became frowned on. When her niece Anna names a character “Rachel,” Austen disapproves: “The name of Rachael [sic] is as much as I can bear” (9-18 September 1814; Letters, 276). Perhaps Austen felt extra dislike because her own great-aunt Rachel Lord had forbidden the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to a mere Lieutenant Wentworth. The couple married secretly in 1720; when Wentworth came back from Continental wars as a lieutenant-general, Rachel eventually gave in.6 It is not hard to imagine that this family history is a background to Persuasion.
Jane Austen’s own grandmother was a “Rebecca,” her godfather was a “Samuel,” yet these names in her fiction register as “low.” “Rebecca,” possessed of a “forbidding Squint” and “greazy tresses,” tries to remedy her deficiencies with “Patches, Powder, Pomatum, and Paint” (“Frederic and Elfrida,” Juvenilia, 6). Later, “Rebecca” is the name of Mrs. Price’s Portsmouth slavey. Staunch Dissenters sustained Bible names, as in “Josiah” Wedgwood. In Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), Parson Primrose has named his son “Moses”—but that shows what an old-fashioned provincial innocent this Anglican parson is. At the turn into the eighteenth century, we easily find names like “Jonathan” (as in Swift) and “Samuel” (as in Richardson and Johnson), but they begin to dry up. Smollett’s Scottish parents named him “Tobias,” pleasantly memorable in an era in which male novelists and poets (like the rest of the governing class) seem to be turning into Henrys (Fielding, Brooke) or Williams (Beckford, Godwin, Blake, Cowper, Wordsworth).
We might suspect anti-Semitic prejudice in the recoil from Old Testament names, but the same phenomenon can be observed in relation to the New Testament. Matthew Prior the poet was already out of the swim at his birth in 1664, the child of a Nonconformist artisan in Dorset. Matthew, Mark, Luke—the Evangelists—where are they in the Augustan age? Waiting for the nineteenth century. “Stephen,” name of the first Christian martyr and of an English king—popular among Elizabethans—goes totally out of use. Austen uses it once, for a servant in Bath. “Christopher,” once good enough for a family like the Hattons, is not in vogue after the time of Christopher Wren. In “Sir William Mountague” Austen rightly gives the name “Sir Christopher Mountague” to an ancestor several generations back. In Mansfield Park, “Christopher Jackson” is the estate carpenter (MP, I, ch. 13). Old “religious” names descended to the working class. Some names in good repute like “Thomas” or “James” had perhaps ceased to be regarded as “religious,” despite New Testament antecedents. One of the greatest Christian saints, Paul, does not seem to have men named after him in England at any period before the nineteenth century. Probably “Paul” seemed too Continental, too Catholic, like “Peter”—also largely absent among the Anglican well-bred.7 (“Lord Peter Wimsey” could be invented only in the twentieth century.)
Religion and ethnicity created barriers—or tests. “Kenneth” was the name of ancient Scottish kings, but nobody south of the Highlands would name a child “Kenneth”—or “Keith” or “Donald,” surnames of Scots clans or families.8 “Kevin” is altogether Irish. “David”—name of a stellar king in the Bible—as the name of Welsh kings becomes considered a quintessentially Welsh name.9 A non-Welsh “David” is likely to come from Scotland, like David Hume, or from the provinces, like David Garrick. An aristocratic “Lord David Cecil” would be practically inconceivable.
The name pool evaporated as a number of traditional names became objectionable for various reasons, while innovations were looked on askance. A first name like “Bridget” gives away a person’s Irish Catholic background, marking her as “low.” Hence the comic incongruity of a “Lady Bridget Dashwood” in “A Collection of Letters” (Juvenilia, 194). The joke is employed by Mary Crawford in the chapel at Sotherton, when she imagines “the former belles of the house of Rushworth… . The young Mrs. Eleanors and the Mrs. Bridgets—starched up into seeming piety” (MP, I, ch. 9).10 Mary thinks back to a time long ago when such names could be worn by women in the upper ranks—and she may have picked up on the chapel’s hidden Catholic past.
Medieval names like “Hugh” or “Alice,” going strong in the Renaissance, disappear from polite society. We come upon “Alicia”—Lady Susan’s confidante is “Alicia Johnson,” and Elizabeth Elliot and Lady Russell know a “Lady Alicia.” An archaic name may sometimes be excused as a burden of fine lineage. In “Jack and Alice” in Volume the First, the titular heroine Alice Johnson and her brother have names both vulgar and antiquated, unsuited to the drawing room or polite fiction. Jack Johnson, his repetitive name varied only by a grossly plebeian nickname, makes no figure at all. Alice, with her flushed face and tendency to “drink a little too much,” elicits one of Austen’s best comic sentences: “She has many rare and charming qualities, but Sobriety is not one of them” (“Jack and Alice,” Juvenilia, 26).
“Susan” goes downhill; it is the name of Charles Adams’s cook. In Scotland, “Susannah” remained acceptable. (Susannah Burney, sister of the novelist, was Scottish on her father’s side.) Austen constantly treats “Susan” as low. “Lady Susan,” like “Lady Bridget,” is a kind of oxymoron. We know that in 1803 Austen submitted a novel with the title “Susan” to a publisher. This unpublished manuscript, which the author endeavored to reclaim in 1809, is generally thought to be an early version of Northanger Abbey. If so, it seems likely that the heroine Susan as originally planned was more of a simpleton and country bumpkin than Catherine Morland is.
A traditional source of renewal of the national name pool has been royal marriage. “Philip” was imported when Philip II of Spain married Mary Tudor. The names of Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria (“Henriette Marie”), appealed to some loyalists and to those of Catholic inclinations; these names hovered between the exotic and the familiar. The Duke of Monmouth’s mistress was Lady Henrietta Wentworth. “Henrietta” was probably made more acceptable by Charlotte Lennox’s novel Henrietta (1758; reissued 1787, 1789, 1798). “Maria” retained a slight foreign flavor. It hints at Catholic leanings, as in the case of the (officially Anglican) novelist Regina Maria Roche. The association of “Maria” with dangerous Catholicism was repeatedly signaled by contemporary political figures, not only Queen Maria Theresa of Austria, but also Clementina Maria Walkinshaw and Maria Fitzherbert, mistress—or wife—of the Prince Regent.
One of the few sources of new names in England in the mid-eighteenth century was the Hanoverian dynasty. Their European Germanic names could still seem very foreign. “George,” however, was a good choice, the name of England’s patron saint. George II married Caroline of Anspach, a fairly popular queen and regent who ensured the currency of the name “Caroline”—a form of “Charles” carrying (in England) Stuart associations. George II’s children by Caroline were Frederick, Anne, Amelia, Caroline, William, Mary, and Louisa. These names already had currency or rapidly gained it. “Amelia” (adopted by Fielding for a heroine) becomes acceptable, and “Louisa” becomes naturalized.
George III played up his name, which at its Greek root (ge-ourgos) means “farmer” or “worker of land.”11 “Georgic” describes a form of poetry describing agriculture, husbandry, or viticulture. Taking marked interest in agricultural improvements, the King George III represented himself as “Farmer George.” This persona is represented in favorable propaganda, as in the print showing King George rewarding an industrious hay maker (fig. 3). The persona is also satirized in Gillray’s caricatures of “Farmer George and His Wife.” King George III and Queen Charlotte strove to be exemplary. Their marriage embodied marital happiness—no royal mistresses! Their fifteen children (born between 1762 and 1783) have the following names: George, Frederick, William, Charlotte, Edward, Augusta Sophia, Elizabeth, Ernest Augustus, Augustus, Adolphus, Mary, Sophia, Octavius, Alfred, Amelia. The first five names on this list are traditionally English, as are the Tudor stalwarts “Elizabeth” and “Mary.” Queen Charlotte herself had ensured the continuing strength of “Charlotte”; its appeal increased when it was given to the Prince of Wales’s daughter and heir, Princess Charlotte (b. 1796).
3. Anon., “George III Rewards a Haymaker near Weymouth” (1807). Photograph: © The British Library Board.
“Augusta” and “Sophia” had already gained new currency from the Hanoverians. Fielding’s Tom Jones with its spirited, dark-haired heroine Sophia (“Sophy”) had for decades helped to naturalize the romantic (and theological) “Sophia” (“Wisdom”). Camden objected heatedly to this name, believing that Holy Wisdom is an attribute of Christ alone and that its use is blasphemous.12 Admiral Croft finds the names “Henrietta” and “Louisa” unusual and hard to recall—presumably they still seem to him foreign or newfangled—but his wife’s name “Sophia” (or “Sophy”) seems to him completely normal, utterly English. Not all Hanoverian names rose into English common use. Nobody at the time seems to have recognized the importance of being Ernest. “Adolphus” has never appealed. Surprisingly, King Alfred the Great attracted few eighteenth-century supporters in the name game.
The extravagant brood produced by George III and Queen Charlotte may be mocked in Austen’s “Edgar and Emma” in Volume the First, where we are presented with the inordinately numerous family of Mr. and Mrs. Willmot [sic]: “Their family being too large to accompany them in every visit, they took nine with them alternately.” As well as five unnamed daughters, they produce from their traveling coach Robert, Richard, Ralph, and Rodolphus. Hoping to see their eldest son, Emma enquires after the rest of the family, and Mrs. Willmot kindly replies in detail:
“Amy is with my sister Clayton. Sam at Eton. David with his Uncle John. Jem and Will at Winchester. Kitty at Queens Square. Ned with his Grandmother. Hetty and Patty in a convent at Brussells [sic]. Edgar at College, Peter at Nurse, and all the rest (except the nine here) at home.” (Juvenilia, 36)
The heroine, in despair at not seeing her adored Edgar, gives way to grief and “retiring to her own room, continued in tears the remainder of her Life.” The comedy consists partly in Emma’s being able to distinguish or care about one individual in such a crowd. An undifferentiating but demanding philoprogenitiveness floods the world with Willmots. Their offspring are named—promiscuously and unfashionably—according to various principles, with tendencies both strongly Protestant and strongly Catholic. Among the parental principles is a taste for alliteration. Willful Willmots override fashions in employing old and “low” nicknames like “Sam,” “Jem,” and “Patty,” along with the completely unfashionable “David” mixed in with Old English “Edgar” and pretentious Germanic Continental imports like “Rodolphus.”
Poetic and Novelistic Names
Not only kings but writers change the namescape. Macpherson, author of poems allegedly by the Celtic bard “Ossian,” seems to have invented the female name “Malvina,” but employs genuine ancient Celtic heroic names, including “Oscar.”13 Names from romances appear in the sixteenth century, including “Guy,” “Roland,” “Bevis,” and “Tristram” and “Lancelot,” which Camden considers too fantastical. He heartily disapproves of pagan names like “Cassandra” and “Diana.”14 Novelists are both inventors and promoters of names. Samuel Richardson derives his “Pamela” from Sir Philip Sidney’s classically based invented name for his heroine in Arcadia. All “real-life” Pamelas are ultimately descendants of Richardson’s and thus of Sidney’s Pamela. Richardson’s invention “Clarissa” is a Latin superlative of clara (brilliant, shining)—and there is a Saint Clara. Novelistic names eventually become bestowed on real babies. (In 1810 a pair of my own collateral ancestors named a child “Clarissa.”) All Clarissas, living and fictional, are named after Richardson’s heroine—including Clara (originally “Clarissa”) Barton, Virginia Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway, and probably the Clarice who opposes Hannibal Lector. Fiction writers import names from classical, religious, or literary tradition. Rousseau’s novel Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) and Henry Mackenzie’s epistolary Julia de Roubigné (1777) gave cachet both to “Louisa” (variant of Heloisa) and to the classical “Julia.” (“Louise,” however, was not yet English.) Julia Melville in Sheridan’s The Rivals is rational and kind. Julia, younger of two sisters in Radcliffe’s Sicilian Romance, possesses some of the qualities of a Marianne Dashwood. (“Julius,” unlike its female counterpart, never “took.”) “Charlotte” was popular before there was a Queen Charlotte, largely because of Richardson’s vivacious and witty Charlotte Grandison. Frances Burney uses a Catholic saint’s name for the heroine of Cecilia (1782); in Camilla (1796) she deploys classical (even Virgilian) names for the heroine and her sisters Eugenia and Lavinia. But a real Eugenia Wynne met Admiral Nelson, and Austen knew a real “Camilla” with the contrasting last name of “Wallop”—the less-than-lovely surname of the earls of Portsmouth. Extraordinary names like “Ethelinde” are designed by novelists partly to avoid the charge of holding a particular real person up to scrutiny.
Good upper-class parents ought not to give their child an uncouth or elaborate name; Maggie Lane has commented that Austen uses “latinate” names like “Maria” and “Isabella” only for “pretentious or shallow young women.”15Yet among Austen’s connections were people with fancy Latin- or Greek-based names. Her father’s sisters were “Philadelphia” and “Leonora.” One of Jane Austen’s best friends had a Greek-derived first name: “Alethea Bigg.” Jane Austen never gives any character in her mature fiction as improbable a name as her family’s “Cassandra,” though she adopts it as a tribute in “The beautifull [sic] Cassandra.” “Cassandra,” as Camden reveals, means “inflaming men with love.”16 The name of the unhappy Trojan princess, doomed to prophesy the truth but never to be believed, was given to female Leighs not in classical reminiscence but as proud reminder of the connection to that Duke of Chandos who had married Cassandra Willoughby.
In her earliest surviving works Jane Austen conducts vigorous experiments with names, savoring their various implications. “Frederic and Elfrida,” the first story in Volume the First, unites the first name of Smith’s hero Frederic Delamere with the name of a Saxon queen. Characters include the sisters Rebecca and Jezalinda Fitzroy. “Jezalinda” is pure invention, in affectionate mockery of Mrs. Smith’s “Ethelinde” combined with “Jessica” and “Jezebel” (Juvenilia, 6; see Peter Sabor’s note, 376). The surname “Fitzroy” is high if naughty Norman, meaning “illegitimate son of the King”—the name of the Duchess of Cleveland’s son by Charles II. In “Love and Freindship” Laura bears the name of Petrarch’s beloved. This heroine (or antiheroine) becomes attached (if not exactly legally married) to Edward Lindsay. As Lindsay is the surname of Ludovic Lindsay, the commander who left Alton in the lurch, Laura conceals that surname “under that of Talbot.” John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, loyal Lancastrian and “Terror of the French,” figures strongly in Shakespeare’s I Henry VI. Laura conceals her husband’s Scots name and identity under the cloak of English patriotism and heroism. Edward’s sister has the medieval name “Philippa,” while Laura’s friend “Isobel” has a modern daughter “Marianne.” “Edgar and Emma” offers two Dark Age or early medieval Saxon names, one of which will be used later. “Lesley Castle” contrasts the food-obsessed cook Charlotte Lutterell with her sentimental sister Eloisa. Eloisa’s alliterative fiancé Henry Hervey dies shortly before the wedding, leaving Eloisa prostrate and Charlotte anxiously forcing everyone to devour the store of prepared eatables. “Eloisa” is a reference to the heroine of Rousseau’s La Nouvelle Héloïse, while “Charlotte” points to the domestic and practical heroine of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), first seen cutting slices of bread.
English people in this period—of any class—do not name their children after minerals or precious stones, or flowers, fruit, or plants. Nobody is going to be Precious Jade or Peach Blossom—or any European equivalent. No Ruby or Violet will be found, no Pearl or Jasmine. Even our recent taste for such names has its limits; there are people named “Jonquil” and “Pansy” (for I have encountered them), but one does not meet persons named “Convolvulus,” “Calceolaria,” or “Artichoke.” In Austen’s period we shall find nobody named “Rose” or “Lily” or “Marigold.” “Rosamond” might seem like an exception, but it is not, for “Rosa Mundi” is one of the epithets for the Blessed Virgin Mary and thus acceptable as a saint’s name, though it signals Catholicism. (Edgeworth presumably named her Protestant child heroine “Rosamond” in order to appeal to Irish Catholic readers.)
A successful romance novel, The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (1972), set supposedly in England in 1799, has a heroine named “Heather Simmons”—which is delightfully ridiculous! No woman of any class would be so called in 1799. The hero’s name is only a fraction more likely: “Captain Brandon Birmingham.” In the 1790s “Birmingham” would signify low-class industry, Dissenters, and vulgarians. A male child might, however, be christened “Brandon,” owing to the peculiar English Protestant custom of using surnames as first names in allusion to a family line. Camden remarks on this new practice: “In late years Surnames have been given for Christian names among us, and no where else in Christendome.” Surprisingly, the Catholic-leaning historian favors this innovation: “It seemeth to proceed from hearty good will and affection of the Godfathers … or from a desire to … propagate their own names.”17 Commonly the mother’s maiden surname is thus propagated in a male. Surnames were first employed as “Christian names” to prevent loss of connection with the mother’s old and aristocratic family.
Eventually, surnames of English noble families, Norman and Saxon terms like “Neville,” “Howard,” and “Stanley,” became generally available first names. “Shirley,” a surname, made the second switch from being an all-boy first name to all-girl under the indomitable force of Shirley Temple. (Celtic surnames like “Meredith” and “Kelly” have recently become first names for girls.) Heroes’ surnames—Clive, Nelson, Lincoln—provide new mines of first names. In her mature fiction Austen generally avoids giving a character a surname as a first name—though there are two interesting exceptions.
Nicknames express the affections, but are also conventions subject to fashion. The day after Jane’s birth her father wrote to his sister, “We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy, and a future companion. She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry as Cassy is to Neddy.”18 George Austen’s happy employment of nicknames reflects an old-fashioned taste. (He was not as well born as his wife.) We may doubt that the Knights who adopted Edward called the heir anything as undignified as “Neddy.” Among polite people, nicknames came to seem “low”—at best, to be kept strictly within the family. That “Jenny” was used within the family is testified by its presence on the handle of young Jane’s parasol in the “Rice Portrait” (fig. 4). Probably the green parasol was a gift of her father who still saw in Jane his little girl, his “Jenny,” and not the nubile young lady she was becoming. When the Austen sisters are grown, they address each other in personal letters by full first name. Austen early recognized that old nicknames like “Jenny,” “Kitty,” and “Peggy” were out of keeping with pretensions to caste. Charlotte in “Lesley Castle” is characteristically insensitive in addressing her old friend Margaret Lesley as “Peggy” (Juvenilia, 145). That Lady Williams was once “Kitty” is comic (“Jack and Alice,” Juvenilia, 18). In revising her story of “the Bower” Austen changed her heroine’s name from “Kitty” to “Catharine.”
An acquaintance or friend should be referred to formally, not even by first name—nor by last name alone, save by those entitled to use surname address. Male upper servants (butler, valet) were addressed by last names only. Among elite males, surname address and reference is standard. Mr. Bingley refers to and addresses his friend as “Darcy.” Mrs. Elton breaks gender (and class) bounds when referring to Mr. Knightley as “Knightley” and also affronts class proprieties when referring to Miss Fairfax as “Jane”—evidence that she sees Miss Fairfax as of a lower class than herself. Emma speaks of Harriet Smith to Mr. Elton as “Miss Smith” and not as “Harriet.” She addresses Harriet by her first name, however, while Harriet addresses “Miss Woodhouse,” not “Emma.”19 To use first names is to take a liberty; Mary Crawford calls Miss Price “Fanny,” but, as Maggie Lane remarks, Fanny stoutly holds out against calling her “Mary.”20
When Elizabeth Bennet is visiting Netherfield, Mr. Bingley’s sisters should refer to her as “Miss Elizabeth Bennet” (as Bingley does), but they sneeringly begin to call her “Miss Eliza Bennet” to her face and “Eliza Bennet” behind her back (P&P, I, ch. 8). This nicknaming (picked up from Sir William Lucas) is intentionally demeaning.21 At home the second Miss Bennet is “Lizzy”; she is “Eliza” to Sir William Lucas and to her close friend Charlotte (who also uses “Lizzy”). Affectionate usage, reserved for the few, should not become public. In Austen’s later novels, nicknames are not customarily employed for adults. There are three outstanding exceptions: the male “Tom” and “Frank” and the female “Fanny.” “Tom” is natural when the son has the first name of the father. Frank Churchill’s use of “Frank” is natural as the son of a “Francis,” but continued use after father and son have separated reflects the bearer’s projection of boyish charm. “Frank” permits a continuous pun regarding a plotter who is anything but “frank.” Fanny Price is a special case. The name “Fanny” Dashwood may reflect her mother’s lack of gentility. Nancy Steele vulgarly uses her nickname (“Nancy” for “Anne”) in public. That Nancy has an equally mannerless friend named “Martha Sharpe” (a New Testament first name already demoted) clarifies her lower-middle-class milieu. Nicknames descended to—and were associated with—servants. In Emma, “Patty” is the name of the Bateses’ only servant. “Patty” will become a nickname for “Patricia” (not in use in the eighteenth century), but in Austen’s time “Patty” (like “Matty”) is a nickname for “Martha.”
4. Ozias Humphry, Jane Austen (ca. 1789) (“Rice Portrait”). Photograph courtesy of Anne Winston Rice.
Names for pets are, like nicknames, terms of affection, but animal names, and even animals, are extremely rare in Austen’s works. The Watsons’ horse who wisely proposes to stop at the milliners is unnamed. Animals turn up at odd moments. Osborne Castle contains, according to young Charles Blake, “a monstrous curious stuff’d Fox there, & a Badger—any body would think they were alive” (The Watsons, Later Manuscripts, 304). This description comically indicts the Osbornes: “Anyone would think they were alive”—but they aren’t, not quite. Osborne Castle’s people, like its dead trophies, are “stuff’d.” Lord Osborne may share some qualities of the (now moribund) fox and badger (slyness and shyness). Only two characters, male and in the same novel, have names for animals. The mare that Willoughby tries to give Marianne is “Queen Mab,” referring to a fantasy world elaborated by Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet—a reminder that love is dreamy and magical, rarely realistic. Sir John Middleton, irked that his generous gesture was followed by Willoughby’s injury to Marianne, exclaims, “It was only the last time they met that he had offered him one of Folly’s puppies and this was the end of it!” (S&S, II, ch. 10). John Willoughby did not need the gift—he himself is one of the puppies of Folly. The mare Edmund gets for Fanny’s use is utilitarian, unnamed. Lady Bertram, with all the ingenuity of which she may be supposed capable, calls her pug dog “Pug.” Despite momentary play with puppies in Northanger Abbey, Austen—unlike Burney—does not recognize animals as important affectional objects. She seems determined to keep her young women away from pussycats and birds. Intimacy should be kept to human relations. Intimate terms, however, should be private, secured from the coarseness of the world.