Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (2016)
* Chapter 5 *
Titles, Status, and Surnames
Austen’s Great Surname Matrix
Titles: Rank and Class
We are accustomed to dealing with issues of “class.” But “class” covers attributes like education or purchasing power, things that can be achieved (at least theoretically) by ability and effort. “Rank” is more like having blue eyes—not an achievement, just a fact. Class and rank differ, as Tom Keymer explains:
Where “class” would be measured in terms of … productivity and income … “rank” placed primary emphasis on lineage, implying that social status was more or less inalienably conferred by birth and descent.1
Lady Catherine De Bourgh, daughter of an earl, upholds her own order, not herself individually, when she “likes to have the distinction of rank preserved” (P&P, II, ch. 6). (But she also admits—or her guileless toady admits for her—that externals like dress do matter to upkeep of rank.) Elizabeth prefers class, inwardly judging that Lady Catherine is not noted “for extraordinary talents or miraculous virtue”; therefore “the mere stateliness of money and rank, she thought she could witness without trepidation” (P&P, II, ch. 6).
The desire to believe in an ordained series of grades in society, constant and inalienable, beyond the transitory measure of money, did not readily die out—despite disconcerting flexibility in practice. Titles have constantly been bestowed on British “commoners” for diverse reasons, military performance and/or political loyalty chief among them. Medieval knighthood was supposed to be won through prowess in battle, but a knighthood became a convenient gift for other services; hence the term “carpet knight” for one knighted in the palace and not on the field of battle. Sir William Lucas, a local businessman, became mayor of Meryton and was given a knighthood just for making a speech, an address to the King George III—expressing loyalty to a monarch perhaps not actually present. Sir William’s knighthood would have been a political move, to reward middle-class supporters of King George III. If it were given just after the first crisis over the king’s illness, then it would indeed be very recent indeed (1789-90). Knighthoods were cheap and did not clutter up the landscape by passing to descendants.
The title of baronet is inherited, but baronets are not peers and have never sat in the House of Lords. James I, in want of cash, forced all men in receipt of a certain income to buy a baronetcy; from this point the title became devalued. Old families, like the husband of Richardson’s Pamela, disdain a mere “novel Honour”; Mr. B. complains that the title of “Baronet” follows “Knight” into devaluation, “hastening apace into like Disrepute.”2 Keymer points out that Debrett’s new Baronetage of England (1808) was needed because “233 new baronetcies had been created between 1760 and 1800.”3 Hence Sir Walter Elliot’s contempt for “the almost endless creations of the last century” (Persuasion, I, ch. 1). The king was in theory supreme arbiter of promotion in rank, but the dominant party in Parliament could have a very large say. George III not only chose Pitt the Younger as Prime Minister, but also created new peers to give Pitt more supporters in the House of Lords.
Titles or honorifics in use among the aristocracy are a bugbear to Americans and to many modern British readers—save those who actually mix with the titled. The complex code allowed one to see where on the rungs of the golden ladder a person might be placed. The wife of a duke is a duchess—for example, “the Duchess of York.” The eldest son of a duke has a courtesy title of his own (one of his father’s less important titles)—for example, the Duke of Omnium’s son is “Lord Silverbridge.” The second (or later) son of a duke is “Lord” + first name + last name (“Lord Peter Wimsey”), and his wife is Lady + husband’s first name (“Lady Peter”). The wife of a viscount is addressed as “Lady” but may be referred to in third person as “Viscountess.” The daughter of a duke, earl, or marquis is “Lady”+ first name + last name; she retains that title in marriage to an untitled person. Keymer cites the odd instance of “a member of the Watson-Wentworth dynasty, whose father was a marquis” who “took on the oddly conflicted name of Lady Henrietta Alicia Sturgeon on marrying her footman in 1764.”4 The honorific “Lady” is used of a baronet’s wife or knight’s wife, but only with her husband’s surname, not with her first name (“Sir William Lucas and Lady Lucas”; “Sir Thomas Bertram and Lady Bertram”). Introduced to a “Lady Russell” or a “Lady Middleton” we know her husband is—or was—only a knight or baronet. Mr. Collins’s patroness Lady Catherine married a baronet, but we know she is of higher rank by birth—for if she were merely a baronet’s wife she would be only “Lady De Bourgh.” Sons and daughters of a baronet (e.g., Anne Elliot) don’t rate a title. “Honourable” is a title for the son or daughter of a baron (see Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels). The appellation is rarely used, save on very formal occasions; John Yates (the foolish young man who marries Julia Bertram) is referred to as “Mr. Yates” rather than as “the Honourable Mr. Yates.” Visiting cards are formal, retaining all the elements of a title; hence, to someone like Sir Walter Elliot, they are valuable for showing off: “They had the cards of Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple, and the Hon. Miss Carteret, to be arranged wherever they might be most visible” (Persuasion, II, ch. 4).
Below the titled honors are other subtle signs of gradation, sometimes the mere production of self-regarding fantasy. We see this most clearly in Emma, with a central character who pretends that her own or her family’s position is a matter of unalterable superiority, true rank, and not a product of economic power in a changing society. Jane Austen constantly represents the conflict—and the fluctuation—between “rank” and “class.” The conservative ideal did not match the contemporary flow of social change—if it ever had done so. Sir William Lucas, in trade, is made a knight for commercial and political reasons. Mr. Darcy has no title, though we can work out that he is the grandson of an earl. Mr. Knightley has no title, and one cannot imagine that he should care about one. Knights and baronets are fairly common characters in Jane Austen’s novels, but we rarely meet genuine aristocrats—at the rank of baron or above. Keymer points out that Lord Osborne is the man of highest rank in Austen’s oeuvre. The few true aristocrats that Austen introduces to us are disagreeable (Lady Catherine), warped (Lord Osborne), or vapid (the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple). Belief in rank as a value in itself is rendered despicable in the character of Sir Walter Elliot, who dislikes merit and clings to his inalienable birthright. He will truckle to titled ladies for the inane pleasure of being reputed to be related to (and keeping company with) persons of rank—an unwittingly humble sign that he sincerely believes in rank as pure value.
Among titles we should include the important “Mr.” and “Mrs.”—short for “Master” and “Mistress.” A male of the laboring class without any property and thus not a master of anything was not “Mr.”—nor was his wife “Mrs.,” however truly married. “Miss,” also short for “Mistress,” is respectful, a term supposedly reserved for the daughter of a master of property. In Richardson’s Pamela the heroine’s parents are referred to as “Gaffer and Goody Andrews,” semi-affectionate patronizing terms for persons with nothing. Worthy village women of some little standing but no significant property could be called “Dame.” Describing her Christmas charities to the poor Austen mentions gifts of stockings “to Mary Hutchins, Dame Kew, Mary Steevens & Dame Staples” (24-26 December 1798; Letters, 31).5 Young women of no background are referred to merely by their first or last names or both: “Jane Eyre.” Skilled female servants are referred to by their surnames (as if male), like Lady Bertram’s maid Chapman. Unskilled and lowly maids carry only a first name (or nickname). On the other hand, a single woman who owned property or was in charge of—“mistress” of—valuable property and had command over others, was a “Mistress” or “Mrs.” (like “Mrs. Hughes” and “Mrs. Patmore,” housekeeper and cook in Downton Abbey). In Catharine the heroine’s aunt “Mrs. Percival” is a maiden lady, yet she owns real property, and thus is “Mrs.”
These terms are respect forms. Men may sometimes address women by their first names, while women seldom address or refer to men of their own age and class by anything other than “Mr. + surname.” Courtship and marriage do not confer equality of usage. Mr. Knightley calls Emma “Emma,” while she may speak truly when she says, “I will promise to call you once by your Christian name”—once only, at the marriage ceremony. It stills seems too “low” for her to call her husband by his Christian name. Emma’s youthful experiment in calling him “George” was evidently a trying out of a fraternal relationship (Emma, III, ch. 17). Mrs. Elton is “low,” trying to deformalize propriety by referring to “Mr. E.” In speech to third parties, the proper title of friend, lover, or spouse should be preserved. As Horatio Nelson lay dying below decks in the Victory he is recorded as saying, “I am a dead man, Hardy… . Pray let my dear Lady Hamilton have my hair.”6 He addresses his friend by surname, but refers to his mistress correctly and formally in bequeathing a lock of hair. When your remaining life is measurable in minutes, would it not be more natural to say, “Give Emma my hair”? It would seem so to us, but probably not to Nelson—or Hardy.
Surnames: Public Selves, Statements of Context
According to Christian orthodoxy, a surname is not related to one’s truest identity. In heaven, so the theory goes, we shall have neither title nor surname. Nobody shall be “Lord this” or “Lady that”—neither will anyone be “Mrs.” or “Colonel,” “Dr.” or “Professor.” The surname likewise is essentially not real, therefore not used in baptism—however hard for human pride to swallow. Americans may still wish their baby christened “John Warden Bryson III”—although the numbering of a son by generation is a form of title and like the surname should not accompany one to Paradise or even to the font. Yet surnames, which bestow tribal, regional, and familial identity, often seem more important than the first name.
Surnames are our inescapable public selves, indicating lineage and origins. In her “Collection of Letters” in Volume the Second Austen creates the enigmatic Miss Jane (née Annesley). Miss Jane’s father’s name is associated with dispute and questions of identity. The case of “the Annesley Claimant” focused public attention for years on the possibility that a true heir had been spirited away by a false claimant to his name and estate. A man claiming to have been kidnapped turned up to claim name and fortune. Smollett in Peregrine Pickle (1751) drew upon this story from “real life.”7 “Miss Jane” tells her confidante that she secretly married Captain Dashwood, by whom she bore two children. Dashwood was killed in the war and the children died. Seeing no reason to insist on the vanished marriage, and because she could never hear “the name of Dashwood … without emotion,” Miss Jane gave up on a married name or any surname, either her father’s or her husband’s: “I dropt all thoughts of either, and have made it a point of bearing only my Christian one since my Father’s death” (Juvenilia, 196). Both surnames are highly problematic. “Annesley” indicates an uncertain claim to identity (later it will be the surname of Georgiana Darcy’s middle-aged companion). “The name of Dashwood” was so strongly associated with carousal, seduction and rape, atheism, and disturbance that a number of people might not hear it “without emotion.” (Austen will use that name again). The central joke in this story, however, lies in the mysterious Jane’s contrarian assumption that she can do without a surname if she pleases—as if it were merely a matter of personal choice, like using a nickname. Miss Jane defies the tradition that moves a woman from father’s to husband’s name. She belongs to no male, to no lineage or place. This “Miss Jane” seems an avatar of Jane Austen, claiming an impossible freedom, an unknowable identity.
First names may become place names, place names become surnames, and surnames become first names. Surnames in effect “place” you. As verbal terms they most commonly stem from indications of location, occupation, or affiliation. Names of common occupations like “Wright” and “Smith” crowd the annals of the poor. Terms indicating locations (a field, a hill, and a grove) supply the foundational common English surnames. This is clear in the fictional name “John o’ Nokes,” or “John-a-Nokes” (“John who lives by a group of oaks”) long used in outlining law cases:
John-a-Nokes and Tom-a-Stiles: two honest peaceable gentlemen, repeatedly set together by the ears by lawyers … having for several years past been supplanted by two other honest peaceable gentlemen, namely, John Doe and Richard Roe.8
“John-a-Nokes” and “Tom-a-Stiles” became figures of speech partly because they represent an archetypal pattern. Many surnames originally bore direct reference to a natural feature or landmark. The name eventually became portable and abstract. Descendents of an earlier settled “Nokes” family move far from the original stand of oaks but keep the label generations after the namesake trees have disappeared. English surnames (like those in other languages) often suggest a strong earthy association, relationship to a particular spot on the earth, now forgotten, abstracted into a linguistic sign. Anglo-Saxon terms for natural things, or the work of man with nature, endure at the heart of numerous English surnames. On her mother’s side Jane Austen could claim relation to the aristocracy, yet the name “Leigh” is simply a strong old name, referring only to the basic unit of settlement: ley, a clearing in the woods. Jane’s own surname (like that of all named “Austin,” however spelled) ultimately derives from “Augustine,” first missionary to the Anglo-Saxons, buried in Canterbury (Cantwaraburg, “Stronghold of the people of Kent,” Mills). Augustine is rapidly anglicized to “Austin” as in “Austin Priors.” “Austin”/“Austen” is a regional name taken by Kentish folk who worked in or around Canterbury Cathedral, the church of “St. Austin,” or worked for the monastic order, the “Austin friars.”
A poor man might be defined through simple filiation, as the son of a man referred to by his first name: “Robin’s-son,” “Jenkins’s-son.” “Johnson” is simply “John’s son.” This Scandinavian formula was standard among Danish settlers. Despite devotion to Samuel Richardson and Samuel Johnson, Austen finds such -son names dull and saves them for unimportant persons. (“Mr. Robinson” is the Musgroves’ apothecary.) Characters with speaking parts usually have more interesting names. The name of the region, town, or county from which settlers came offers other locative descriptions that crystallize into surnames. In Austen’s novels, locative names (“Hill”), filial names (“Jenkinson”), and work names (“Wright”) indicate the commonest Englishness. (The three just cited pertain to servants.)
English people could usually tell at once whether a surname was English, Norman-English, Scottish, Welsh, or native Irish. Many English tended to think of the Scots and the Irish—along with the Welsh—as rude and uncivilized. Scottish or Irish Protestant aristocracy was inferior to “real” English aristocracy. Immigrants to England often changed their names, getting rid of a “Mac” or “O.” Frances Burney’s father, Charles Burney the musicologist, dropped the “Mac” from “Macburney.” In Austen’s novels a clear (if sometimes unobtrusive) line separates Norman names from names of common English (Anglo-Saxon) origin. A Norman name is likely to indicate influence, power, inherited status, or high rank. Pride and Prejudice plays most fully with indications of Norman descent and aristocratic assurance—all caught in the comic figure of Lady Catherine De Bourgh. But characters with Norman surnames are not always easily laughed off, and some disagreeable people in Austen’s novel have names of Anglo-Saxon derivation.
The surnames of Austen’s characters are often deft references to historical struggles past and present. In Mansfield Park young William Price—with his Welsh surname—has endured, and will endure, strenuous physical effort and real danger in defending the nation (and its colonies) against the French in the Napoleonic naval battles. The English have struggled against the Welsh and still keep them under, but they are lucky to have a Price to fight for them. Past historical conflicts like the Norman Conquest, the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century, the English Civil War in the mid-seventeenth century, and the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688-89—all leave their mark. Austen deploys historical names like “Fairfax,” “Churchill,” and “Russell” with subtlety and effect. Samuel Richardson was the first English novelist to incorporate into his narrative figurative and realistic historical names with complex poetic signification. In Clarissa he uses Harlowe (otherwise “Harlow”) as his heroine’s surname, a pun on “harlot” and “Harlowe.” The name of the town in Essex (“Harlow”) is, however, a realistic locative. That Clarissa’s first stop after leaving home is Saint Alban’s in Hertfordshire suggests that her family’s house is in Essex on the borders of Hertfordshire and that the name of her rising and self-important family came from a town not far from where they live now. Richardson also deliberately uses names of historical import, like “Lovelace,” “Byron,” and “Grandison,” names of extant families with particular Civil War histories.9 Charles Grandison (a kind of virtuous counterpart to Bonnie Prince Charlie) gets into an honorable entanglement with a Continental Catholic girl named “Clementina,” a parallel and contrast to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s entanglement with his Scottish (and Catholic) mistress Clementina Walkinshaw.
Austen saw what Richardson was up to and learned how to use and refine his play with names. Other authors had already taken note. Frances Sheridan’s heroine in The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph (1761) offers an unusual instance of a heroic male surname used as a female’s first name. The heroine’s name honors Algernon Sidney, a kind of Whig patron saint, executed under Charles II for a part in the Rye House Plot. In Emmeline, Charlotte Smith has her heroine turn from the emotional Frederic Delamere to the rational, stable, and kind hero Godolphin, who bears a name of political importance in the Age of Anne. Sidney Godolphin, originally a moderate Stuart supporter, became associated with the Whigs and John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. As Lord High Treasurer, he stabilized finances and forwarded the Act of Union with Scotland. Jane West makes a similar move in A Gossip’s Story (1796) when the reliable suitor with the politically resonant surname “Pelham” is refused by the overromantic and wrongheaded Marianne Dudley (another historical surname, from the Elizabethan era, Dudley had already been used by Austen in Catharine).
The young Jane Austen combats the Whiggish compromise indicated by Emmeline’s choice. Jane sets no store by any “Godolphin.” Contrariwise, playing her role as reader with vigor, she insists on taking Frederic Delamere as the undeniable romantic hero, an ardent and idealistic lover unjustly treated: “Elizabeth the torment of Essex may be compared to the Emmeline of Delamere” (“History of England,” Volume the Second, Juvenilia, 186). Austen enjoys conflating the historical and the fictional. Annotating Goldsmith’s History, where he writes “Lord Delamere took arms in Cheshire,” she comments, “I should have expected Delamere to have done so, for it was an action unsuited to Godolphin” (Juvenilia, 334).
Austen’s Great Surname Matrix
Austen’s choice of historically current names constantly circles about one particular nexus, which might be termed “the Fitzwilliam-Wentworth complex.” R. W. Chapman drew attention to the connection of the D’Arcy family with the Fitzwilliams, and in 1953 Donald Greene succinctly explained and elaborated upon such connections in his important essay “Jane Austen and the Peerage”:
Robert D’Arcy, fourth and last Earl of Holdernesse (1718-1778) and William Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833) were both great men in Whig political circles… . In 1782 (when Jane Austen was seven) the Marquessate of Rockingham became extinct, on the sudden death of Charles Watson Wentworth, of Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire, Marquess of Rockingham, Prime Minister of Great Britain… . The Wentworth and Woodhouse families were united in the thirteenth century, when one Robert Wentworth married a great heiress, Emma Wodehous [sic]. The senior line of the Wentworth Woodhouse family achieved a baronetcy under James I. A sister of the first baronet married the heir of the D’Arcys, and the eldest son of the first baronet was the great Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, Charles I’s ill-fated minister. Strafford’s only son left no issue, and his estate descended to the children of his sister Anne Wentworth, who had married Lord Rockingham, head of the Watson family. It was a later Anne Wentworth who, in 1744, married the third Earl Fitzwilliam; and on the death of her brother the Prime Minister … the fortunes of the Watsons, Wentworths, and Woodhouses all devolved on the Fitzwilliams.10
Greene also draws attention to the fact that Austen knew many persons of the aristocracy and was “distantly related to the magnificent Fitzwilliams and Cavendish’s themselves.”11 The Duke of Chandos had married as his second duchess Cassandra, who was “sister of Thomas Willoughby, Lord Middleton.” “Middleton” and “Willoughby” are certainly names familiar to readers of Sense and Sensibility. Greene’s summary contains the maiden name of one heroine (Emma Woodhouse) and the married name of another (Anne Wentworth).
Jane Austen’s imagination played upon grand names, grand estates, and great expectations. The young Jane made free with the printed “Form of an Entry for Marriage” and filled in the blanks (reproduced in Juvenilia). First, she invents a bridegroom grandly named “Henry Frederick Howard Fitzwilliam of London”; on her second try, the groom is “Arthur William Mortimer of Liverpool” who is to marry “Jane Austen of Steventon.” Elizabeth Jenkins, who discovered this document, points out that we here see in a line not only first names given to Austen’s characters—save for “Mortimer”—but also surnames that appear in Austen’s fiction: “Howard” (Rev. Mr. Howard will surely win Emma Watson) and “Fitzwilliam” (the name of Darcy’s maternal line, supplying his first name).12 But the third choice is dramatically different: “This Marriage was solemnized between us Jack Smith & Jane Smith late Austen”—and “Jack Smith” and “Jane Smith” are the only witnesses listed to their own wedding. From the highest end of the social and financial scale Jane plunges to the very lowest—rejecting momentarily the grand identities in a fantasy of lower-class alliance.13
Austen’s ambitious and playful use of aristocratic surnames is adumbrated in the early story “Sir William Mountague.” The absurdly faithless hero is introduced in a lengthy sentence on his lineage:
Sir William Mountague was the son of Sir Henry Mountague, who was the son of Sir John Mountague, a descendant of Sir Christopher Mountague, who was the nephew of Sir Edward Mountague, whose ancestor was Sir James Mountague, a near relation of Sir Robert Mountague, who inherited the Title and Estate from Sir Frederic Mountague. (Volume the First, Juvenilia, 47)
The solemn list mocks the books of peerages and baronetage, the illogic of the boring genealogical transmission through the sacred patrilineal line by right of primogeniture. The objective list also shows some hitches in this masculine line: Sir Christopher is only a nephew of the man from whom he inherits, and Sir Edward himself inherited from an undefined “near relation” of a former inheritor (leaving open a possibility of illegitimate succession). The achievement of being a son endows Sir William at age seventeen with “a handsome fortune, an ancient House and a Park well stocked with Deer” (47). (Deer serve as a remaining sign of Norman privilege.)
“Sir William Mountague” refers us to a real family, the Montagus (variously spelled). The Norman name, derived from the original seat at Montaigu-Les-Bois, means “pointed mount (hill).” The original Montagu family, first granted English lands in Wiltshire by King William, achieved more spectacular properties later, most notably the magnificent manor of Beaulieu (“beautiful place”) in Hampshire. Beaulieu (now a showplace) was created out of the monastery of Beaulieu Abbey, purchased in 1538 by Thomas Wriothesley, first Earl of Southampton. It came to the hands of the Montagues when Ralph Montagu, third Baron Montagu, married Elizabeth Wriothesley, daughter of the Earl of Southampton. A descendant, Ralph Montague (1638-1709), made a duke under Queen Anne, was considered by Swift “as arrant a knave as any in his time.” (He may be the model for Lovelace’s uncle Lord M. in Clarissa.) Expert in gallantry and dalliance, Ralph may also furnish a model for Austen’s philandering character. Another inspiration for Austen—as well as a source of the particular spelling—is probably Amelia Opie’s first novel, The Dangers of Coquetry (1790), published when Opie was only eighteen. Opie’s “Edward Mountague,” though virtuous, is torn between two women.
Amelia Opie set out to expose the dangers posed by both a female and a male coquet. Austen’s little antihero Sir William Mountague is a male coquet par excellence. The names of the ladies with whom he is involved are those of prominent aristocratic or gentry families. Their names are titles in themselves. Sir William outdoes Mr. Watt in “Three Sisters” (or Frederick Wentworth among the budding Musgroves) in an inability to distinguish between good-looking sisters or female relations. He is at first equally attracted by each of the three Clifton sisters. The real Cliftons, descended from one of King William’s knights, fought for the Royalists in the Civil War and were heavily fined by Cromwell. Jane’s contemporary Sir Arthur Clifton (b. 1780) became an army officer who was to fight at the Battle of Waterloo.
Sir William Mountague would do well to marry a Clifton, but his aspiring mind urges him to look higher. He next falls in love with “a young Widow of Quality,” Lady Percival. “Percival” (or “Perceval”) is Norman French, with strong associations with a hero of the Grail cycle. The British Percival family included Irish peers, earls of Egmont. Spencer Perceval, seventh son of the second earl, was a rising politician at the time Austen wrote the story. He became Prime Minister and is the only person in that office to have been assassinated (in 1812). Jane Austen certainly could not have known of the more exciting aspects of Spencer Perceval’s career when she wrote this story, or Catharine in which she will use the name again.14 Here, Lady Percival is only the widow of a Percival; we find out a bit later she is really a “Wentworth” by birth.
The Percivals would be an important connection—and the Wentworths even more so. But Sir William the butterfly leaves Lady Percival and falls in love with “Miss Arundel.” The Arundel (or Arundell) family of Cornwall, Norman in origin, was ancient. Sir John Arundell fought for Henry VI at the Battle of Tewkesbury (1471), and Arundells were staunch royalists in the Civil War. The direct line died out in 1701, the estates going to an heiress; recollection of this fact might make a “Miss Arundel” seem especially desirable. But Miss Arundel “preferred a Mr. Stanhope”:
Sir William shot Mr. Stanhope; the lady had then no reason to refuse him; she accepted him and they were to be married on the 27th of October. But on the 25th Sir William received a visit from Emma Stanhope the sister of the unfortunate Victim of his rage. She begged some recompense, some atonement for the cruel Murder of her Brother. Sir William bade her name her price. She fixed on 14s. Sir William offered her himself and Fortune. They went to London the next day and were there privately married. (48)
“Stanhope” is the surname of the Earl of Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, author of published letters addressed to his illegitimate son on manners and morals. Dr. Johnson memorably said that these Letters “teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.”15 Austen appears to agree, valuing the life of a male Stanhope at fourteen shillings. Emma Stanhope, of this louche family, provides a surprising bride for fickle Sir William.
If Sir William is still seventeen, his marriage to Emma Stanhope—like many marriages in Austen’s early comic works—would not be legal. Marriage in any case does not prevent Sir William from wandering:
Chancing one day to see a charming young Woman entering a Chariot in Brook Street, he became again most violently in love. On enquiring the name of this fair Unknown, he found that she was the Sister of his old friend Lady Percival, at which he was much, rejoiced, as he hoped to have by his acquaintance with her Ladyship, free access to Miss Wentworth. (48-49)
Faithless Sir William works his way through serious of flirtations among the aristocracy. Hesitating among the Clifton girls he soon flies higher. He marries into the Stanhopes, while soon hoping to enjoy an adulterous fling with a Wentworth lady, to whose sister he has earlier been attracted. Traditionally, male straying from a marriage to have an affair did not count—legally or socially—as “adultery.” Sir William’s marriage—if it is one—would not be ended by any illicit arrangement with an unmarried female of any rank.
The Wentworths were the wealthiest and most important of all the families Mountague encountered. Some of the estates of doomed Lord Strafford descended to the Watson family. Thomas Watson Wentworth—who had added the “Wentworth”—became first Marquess of Rockingham. His son and heir, Thomas Watson, begot the Marquess of Rockingham who became Prime Minister. A Wentworth had married into a local Woodhouse family in the fourteenth century; the Woodhouse lands went to the Watsons when the second Earl of Strafford died without an heir.
In the prosperity of the eighteenth century, the house on the estate of Wentworth-Woodhouse in south Yorkshire was gigantically rebuilt. The excessively rich Watson Wentworths felt superior to the descendants of the unhappy beheaded loyalist; these “real” Wentworths had inherited the title of Lord Raby, but not the estate. The secondary branch of that family—really the neglected primary branch—built “Wentworth Castle” in joking retaliation, a pseudo-medieval contrast to the great Augustan mansion.16 So, the question regarding any Wentworth is, “does he or she belong to the rich side of the family—or just the poor side?” Sir William was foolish to stray among Stanhopes, if he might have rich pickings marrying among Watson Wentworths. But if the Wentworth young lady is only of the poorer (if more noble) branch, she would do for mere dalliance.
This use of “Wentworth” in Volume the First indicates that Austen is early attracted to the ironic use of aristocratic surnames. Already we can see her beginning to turn to the Great Name Matrix. She makes free with the blue bloods and makes fun of them—and of readers who pursue stories of high life. Throughout her career, Austen finds her strongest surnames—in particular for central male characters—within the complex that Greene adumbrated and that Janine Barchas has further illuminated in Matters of Fact. Barchas points to the exploits and scandals of these powerful families and the interconnectedness of their names both within English life and within “Jane Austen’s Fictive Network”: “Austen’s fascination with the Wentworths, first noted by Donald Greene, grows increasingly overt from text to text, linking Darcys and Woodhouses to Watsons and Vernons to Bertrams and Wentworths.”17
The central name is Wentworth. This is the center from which other names radiate in what I have termed the Great Name Matrix. This name, however, like the solution to a riddle, is concealed until very late. “Wentworth” is used directly at last, as the hero’s surname, in Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion. (In Sanditon Austen is moving away from the Great Name Matrix, choosing a different social milieu.) Sir Walter dismisses Frederick’s brother (and thus Frederick and Mrs. Croft too): “Mr. Wentworth was nobody … nothing to do with the Stafford family” (Persuasion, I, ch. 3). These Wentworths are invisible to Sir Walter as relations of Lord Strafford, probably because they do not belong to the rich Watson Wentworths. Austen leaves us to guess that they probably belong to the purer if poorer line.
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, is the object of Austen’s admiration (fig. 5). Her regard seems to be based not his Stuart loyalty alone but on his self-sacrifice. Confronted by a hostile Parliament determined to sentence him to death (even after the trial failed to find guilt), Thomas Wentworth told King Charles I not to try to save his own life at the expense of the king’s life and the security of the kingdom. Wentworth passed the ultimate test, putting the welfare of somebody else and some greater good ahead of his own, at the cost of life itself. He is thus the eternal opposite of flaunting show-off landowners, self-interested privatizers, and money-centered successes. “Wentworth” represents a moral value that ultimately does not rest on the well-being of the self. Captain Frederick Wentworth (who, like Thomas Wentworth, Lord Strafford, has sufficient egotism and pigheadedness) risked his own life for England, while a Sir Walter Elliot would never risk a hair for the greater good.
All of the lush Wentworth-Woodhouse estate was to be gathered together and inherited by the earls Fitzwilliam, through Rockingham. If “Wentworth” is a name signifying royalist devotion, the name “Fitzwilliam” reeks of successful Whiggery and Gargantuan wealth. When the young fourth Earl Fitzwilliam took his seat in the Lords as a dependable liberal Whig, his uncle, Charles Watson-Wentworth, second Marquess of Rockingham, was Prime Minister. On his coming of age, Fitzwilliam’s estates provided a handsome income of £6,900 per annum. When Rockingham died childless in July 1782 William Fitzwilliam became in a moment the richest man in England. This highly newsworthy young Fitzwilliam’s accession to a wealth almost beyond the dreams of avarice—though nothing is—led the young Jane Austen at Steventon to imagine for herself a bridegroom of this wealth-encrusted name. (Fitzwilliam had actually married Lady Charlotte Ponsonby in 1770.)
5. Anthony van Dyck, Thomas Wentworth, First Earl of Strafford (ca. 1633). Photograph: © National Portrait Gallery, London.
In Parliament, Fitzwilliam was looked on as the leader of his party. He fell out with Burke, supporting Pitt’s suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1794. Pitt made him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In Ireland, Fitzwilliam advocated Catholic Emancipation, antagonizing John Beresford, leader of the Ascendancy. Recalled, Fitzwilliam protested against mistreatment and Beresford accused him of libel. The two men prepared for a duel in June 1795, but a magistrate put an end to their proceedings. The Whig coalition formed after Pitt’s death fell into disagreement, especially on the ending of the slave trade, which Fitzwilliam opposed. In 1811 it was bruited that the Prince of Wales as Regent would ensure that Fitzwilliam became Prime Minister. He never got there. Before Jane Austen’s death Fitzwilliam’s role had dwindled. Later, Lord Holland praised him in temperate terms: “With little talent and less acquirements, he was, throughout his life, one of the most considerable men in the country.”18
This most famous Fitzwilliam of Austen’s day is an unavoidable exemplar of the Whig party rejoicing in inordinate riches and power. The example inspires the comic set of Fitzwilliams in Pride and Prejudice. These include not only Lady Catherine (née Fitzwilliam) and Colonel Fitzwilliam (looking for a rich wife) but also Fitzwilliam Darcy, accustomed to wealth and privilege and unused to making himself agreeable. The Darcy name also connects through the matrix to the Wentworth-Woodhouse connection. The chief significance of the surname, however, lies elsewhere. “Darcy” cuts against the proud Whiggish arrogance of the Fitzwilliams. Thomas Lord Darcy was beheaded in 1537 for his part in the rising against King Henry VIII called “The Pilgrimage of Grace.” Henry was determined to put down with a strong hand what really began as a protest movement and then developed into open revolt against the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Duke of Norfolk (a Howard) and a Fitzwilliam were among Darcy’s chief opponents. Defeated, Thomas Darcy was not taken north to be executed but was beheaded on Tower Hill, as an example to anyone else who might think of protesting against Henry’s (or Thomas Cromwell’s) designs.
One of Thomas Darcy’s female grandchildren married Henry Babington, and a son of this marriage, Anthony Babington, became a page to Mary Queen of Scots and was executed in 1586 for the “Babington plot.” The Darcys are thus associated with the cause of Austen’s beloved Mary Queen of Scots, as well as with a doomed defense of the threatened monasteries.
Thomas Darcy’s support of the people of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire against the command of Henry VIII cost him his life. The martyred Thomas Darcy’s great-grandson married Margaret of Wentworth-Woodhouse; their estate descended to the first Earl of Holdernesse, ancestor of the Earl of Holdernesse of Jane Austen’s own time.
Fitzwilliam Darcy and Frederick Wentworth offer fascinating examples of Austen’s play with English surnames at once contemporary and historical. “Fitzwilliam Darcy” is the major case of Austen’s use of a surname as a first name. The usage indicts a certain pompous pride in adhesion to a maternal surname signifying immense wealth and power. Frederick Wentworth, his first name taken from the young Austen’s favorite fictional hero (the emotional and impulsive Delamere), is the only Austen hero worthy to bear that surname. Looking at Austen’s two most sexually attractive heroes, we see that each has a spiritual dimension; each bears the surname of a man who gave his life for something he held more important than himself. Darcy’s surname redeems the crass acquisitiveness and self-satisfaction found in his unchristian “Christian name.” Part of the comedy lies in the fact that “Fitz-William” is a sign of illegitimacy; fitz- (fils-, son) is the prefix used to describe a Norman aristocrat’s son born out of wedlock. Some surnames originally conveyed a lot of information. A “Fitzwilliam” might rejoice to think he was the son of William the Conqueror himself. But whoever the first Fitzwilliam was, he was a bastard.