Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (2016)
* Chapter 6 *
Personal Names (First and Surnames) in the “Steventon” Novels
Personal Names in Northanger Abbey
Surnames in Northanger Abbey
The heroine’s surname is based on a common formation; there is a real “Morland” far north of Catherine’s Wiltshire. Anglo-Saxon mor means marshy ground, or moor. “Morland,” “land in a marsh,” would once have described the quality of the land a family occupied. The surname belongs to a well-known painter, George Morland (1763–1804), who depicted rural scenes, including workers and their animals—a connection made by Janine Barchas.1Catherine’s surname, however, seems to function chiefly like a strong pun; her family needs “more land.” Catherine’s father occupies a rectory or parsonage; he can farm the glebe land that goes with it, but only as occupant for life. Neither does General Tilney’s second son, also a clergyman, own any land, even though he slightly improves some of the land belonging to his parsonage—not to himself—at Woodston.
Catherine’s genuine—and permanent—landless state makes more ironic the misidentification of her as a great heiress, appointed to inherit the properties of Mr. and Mrs. Allen who kindly take her to Bath. The estate of Ralph Allen of Prior Park, as Janine Barchas points out, had been in transition when Austen was first writing the novel. Wealthy Ralph Allen’s Prior Park would have been juicy pickings; John Thorpe in his drive passes that unignorable estate. Thorpe wills himself into believing Catherine rich, desiring to confuse “old Allen,” (temporary) guardian of Catherine, with the Prior Park Allens of great fortune.2
Mr. and Mrs. Allen of Fullerton are only quietly well-to-do. Mrs. Allen can afford fine clothes, but Mr. Allen mildly objects to his horses going to Salisbury for shopping. Were this childless couple to leave Catherine their property (which never crossed their minds), they could not supply grandeur. Limited in education and social talents, the Allens are a trifle uncouth. Camden, quoting Scaliger, says that “Alan” is “thought to signify an hound.”3 The name “Allen” or “Alan” refers to a barbarian horde (“Alans” or “Aluns”), which, like the Goths, ravaged central Europe in the Dark Ages. Pope refers to them in his mock-epic The Dunciad; Dullness is “Great nurse of Goths, of Aluns, and of Huns!”4 Austen introduces “Huns” with “Hunsford” in Pride and Prejudice. In Northanger Abbey the heroine is traveling with some well-intentioned barbarians. Mr. Allen does not think of accompanying his womenfolk to the Upper Assembly Rooms and seeing to introductions before escaping to his card game. Miss Tilney is properly chaperoned by Mrs. Hughes, of the Welsh name, a former schoolfellow of Eleanor’s mother.
Mrs. Allen has no notion of how to be a chaperone, but chats about her own clothing and its price. Henry laughs when Catherine says that at home the only thing she had to entertain her was to go and call on Mrs. Allen—“What a picture of intellectual poverty!” (NA, I, ch. 10). (The intellectual wealth of his Life with Father is not much better.) Henry unkindly finds relief from the imbecility of the childless matron’s remarks by mimicking her to her face without her catching on.
The Master of Ceremonies links Catherine with Henry Tilney. But Mrs. Allen makes a connection for Catherine in introducing Isabella and John Thorpe, children of Mrs. Allen’s old schoolfellow. “Thorp(e),” an Anglo-Saxon term showing Scandinavian influence, refers to a hamlet or village. This commonplace term serves as suffix to many place names. Mrs. Allen’s other friends have equally unprepossessing names. Neither the Skinners nor the Parrys are in Bath this year. “Parry” (or “Perry”) is Norman-French for a pear tree, poirier. “Perry,” a rural alcoholic drink, is to pears what cider is to apples. (Mr. Perry of Emma is but a rural apothecary.) “Skinner” is an occupational name; the labor of taking skins off dead horses, cows, and mules was inevitably disgusting if necessary. Dr. Skinner, the Allens’ neighbor, came to Bath for the gout. He is presumably a Doctor of Divinity; Fullerton can hardly support two clergymen, so we may assume Dr. Skinner is retired. Thorpe, Parry, and Skinner make a comic low-caste combination reflecting upon Mrs. Allen.
Morlands and Thorpes have humbly locative surnames—dwellers in marshy land or in a village. They belong to places; they are not owners. The Tilneys enter at another level; their name is about possessing. The name derives from an Old English place name, “Till-ney,” which means “Tilla’s isle.” There are several places named Tilney/Tylney, notably in the eastern county of Norfolk; former generations of our Tilney family may have moved east-west instead of north-south. Tudor Tilneys were important. Edmund Tilney (1535–1610) was son of Philip Tilney, usher of the Privy Council. Edmund’s grandfather, Sir Philip Tilney, was attached to Thomas Howard, second Duke of Norfolk, who married Tilney’s cousin and later his sister. These marriages “allied the Tilneys to virtually every important family in the country” (ODNB). Through rich marriages Edmund acquired lands in Middlesex and Surrey. A successful courtier in turbulent times, Edmund Tilney became Master of the Revels and in effect licenser of plays. Such association with the theater offers another and comic connection between “Tilneys and trap-doors” (NA, I, ch. 11).
In the eighteenth century, one Richard Child took the name of Tylney; he had married Dorothy Glynne, daughter of John Glynne and Dorothy (née Tylney)—a rare example of a surname descending from a female. Richard was created first Earl Tylney in 1731. Austen may have transposed the comic name “Richard” from the genuine Richard Child to Catherine Morland’s father. Antiquated “Dorothy” features as the servant in Henry’s mock-Gothic tale. Later, Earl Tilney, born a Long, added the surname of Tilney when he became Earl Tilney. In 1805 Catherine Tilney-Long at age fifteen became enormously wealthy when her younger brother died in 1805. Barchas suggests that Austen in revising the manuscript of Susan (already finished and sold in 1803) made her heroine a “Catherine” in honor of the teenaged heiress Catherine Tilney-Long.5
In contrast to Edmund and such successful land-acquiring Tilneys, Charles Tilney, son of Edmund’s cousin, participated in the plot to free Mary Queen of Scots known as the Babington Conspiracy of 1586. As we have seen, Anthony Babington, leader of the ill-thought-out plot (which entailed killing Queen Elizabeth), was a great-grandson of Thomas Lord Darcy of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Loyalty to Mary of Scots would have appealed to Austen. This episode—not dealt with by Barchas—suggests that while there is one branch of Tilneys (or Tylneys) who are power seeking, land hungry, and self-aggrandizing, there is another branch that is loyal and not averse to risk and self-sacrifice. It is easy to see where General Tilney belongs—whereas in the end Henry opts for some risk.
General Tilney married a “Miss Drummond” with a hefty dowry. Janine Barchas points out that this is ill sorted.6 Drummonds were staunch Jacobites, starting with James Drummond the fourth earl. If Miss Drummond were a secret Catholic or Catholic sympathizer, she could not have been altogether happy in living in a confiscated and secularized monastery, rendered subordinate to the dictatorial general’s stern self-indulgence. As a Scot she is also an alien, commanded to assimilate herself to a triumphant English conqueror who took her twenty thousand pound dowry to wife.
General Tilney is at first uncritically admired as “tall, and handsome, and Henry’s father” (NA, II, ch. 1). In appearance and domination he resembles Henry VIII who took the abbeys. Though he cannot say “off with her head!” he dismisses Catherine in summary judgment. General Tilney laments missing the two distinguished friends who failed to keep him company in Bath; the Marquis of Longtown and Mr. Courtney. “Mr. Courtney” may be connected to Edward Courtenay, first Earl of Devon (1526–56), a descendant of Edward IV, who became involved in various plots (involving assassinations) to put Elizabeth on the throne. This friend, probably a congenial Tudor supporter of aristocratic descent, would not, one imagines, have sympathized with the ardent feminist heroine of Mary Hays’s daring Memoirs of Emma Courtney (1796).
Northanger Abbey, once “a richly endowed convent,” had “fallen into the hands of an ancestor of the Tilneys on its dissolution” (II, ch. 2). General Tilney, then, descends from a successful courtier of Henry VIII, present at the original land grab. Tilneys ingest everything. General Tilney is obsessed with himself and his sacred mealtimes. We can savor the comedy in the sentence, “The dining-parlour was a noble room” (II, ch. 6). Feeding oneself is not “noble”—not in the moral sense, though perhaps elites do eat everything up. General Tilney’s estate seems devoted to working for his table. He boasts to Catherine of the trouble his gardens and hothouses give him: “The utmost care could not always secure the most valuable fruits. The pinery had yielded only one hundred in the last year” (NA, II, ch. 7). Pineapples, a signal of great wealth, first signaled ownership of West Indian plantations—a luxury food par excellence. Growing pineapples in English hothouses could consume a fortune in fuel required to keep a “pinery” warm. General Tilney displays the comically negative qualities of a nouveau riche like Mary Robinson’s Sir Edward Clarendon in Angelina (1796). Clarendon, who bought his title and assumed a saliently Tory name, has purchased an abbey that he insists on showing off to Lord Acreland, to whom he designs to marry his daughter. At Clarendon Abbey Acreland complains of “the stupid vulgarity of my wealthy host” as he is “dragged, scorching in the sun, to view the Gloucestershire hills from the farthest end of the park.” (The imaginary Clarendon Abbey may not be too far from imaginary Northanger in Gloucestershire.) Greedy Clarendon also forces Acreland to eat and drink too much:
“You see, my Lord, we know how to live,’” said Sir Edward this morning, while cutting a pine apple at breakfast; “don’t imagine that all good things are confined to the tables of the nobility: I assure your Lordship, that my pinery is one of the first in the kingdom, let the other be where it will; to be sure it has cost me a world of money—but no matter for that; life is not life, my Lord, without good eating.”7
Robinson’s character exemplifies Tory conventions regarding vulgarity. With his newly minted name, his purchased abbey, and his “pinery,” this boaster is of the mercantile class. Austen’s greedy and vulgar owner of an abbey, however, is a genuine Tory—no interloper but an inheritor. Yet his remarks strongly resemble those of the freshly minted abbey owner—save that General Tilney knows enough to add the untruthful disclaimer: “Though careless enough in most matters of eating, he loved good fruit—or if he did not, his friends and children did” (NA, II, ch. 7). General Tilney shows off like any vulgar merchant. General Tilney’s name puns on the word “till,” but there is no real tillage of the land in order to feed the population visible on the Northanger estate. Everything seems designed to go into the general’s giant kitchens and down his capacious gullet, as if he were a modern Cyclops.
First Names in Northanger Abbey
Acquisitive General Tilney’s first name is presumably the Hanoverian “Frederick”; his eldest son would be named after him. Camden comments that “Frederic” (along with “Frery” and “Fery,” its short forms) “hath been now a long time a Christian name in the ancient family of Tilney, and lucky to their house, as they report.”8 General Tilney seems a bit wary of his elder son. He is not trying to find a spouse for him. No doubt Frederick is sulkily aware of what is expected, and wishes to sow his wild oats first. The father comes down heaviest on his only daughter Eleanor, preventing her marriage, while he seems anxious to settle the more malleable and less important younger son.
Henry Tilney has the Christian name of a line of English kings, the name of Austen’s favorite older brother, the mercurial and witty Henry. The name “Henry” recurs in Austen’s mature works; the other “Henry” who aspires after an Austen heroine is the witty and deceptive—if charming—Henry Crawford. There are similarities between these Henrys. Both sometimes use their wit for mockery of women. Henry Tilney, a man of peace, not of war, has allied himself with his sister against the masculine and military leading team of his household. To a lesser extent Henry Crawford does this too, keeping his bond with his sister while maintaining his relation to Admiral Crawford. Henry Tilney’s position imposes a certain unwilling submissiveness. Tethered to a living in his father’s gift and on his estate, he must endure the paternal beck and call. Henry has some incentive to marry early; a family of his own at Woodston will provide good reason for not spending time in his father’s house.
Henry Crawford is restless, impatient, dissatisfied with things as they are and with himself. Henry Tilney is likewise unsatisfied. His response to unpleasant constraint is sarcasm. He cracks his wit on others—he plays off Mrs. Allen to her face, as even Catherine notices. Henry’s parodic response arises from a genuine aversion to cliché—and after meeting his father, we can understand, for General Tilney’s conversation is all heavy cliché. Henry Tilney’s playfulness and irritation are qualities shared with Shakespeare’s Prince Hal—kept in check by the fact that this young man is not the heir. If Austen is critical of the kind of takeover Northanger Abbey represents, then General Tilney is an usurper (like Henry IV), and his younger son, like Hal, participates in a suppressed guilty awareness of usurpation. Yet Henry Tilney as a clergyman endeavors—to a very limited extent—to carry on the original work of the abbey.
Captain Frederick Tilney has all the sense of entitlement that being an heir can give him. The most noteworthy member of the English royal family to carry this name in the eighteenth century was “poor Fred,” Prince of Wales, heir to George I, who died prematurely. “Poor Fred” and his father became decidedly at odds, a pattern repeated by successive Hanoverians, including George III and his eldest son. Slightly more docile than a typical Prince of Wales, Frederick Tilney does all he can to evade his father. “Frederick” will be the name of Austen’s true war hero of Persuasion—a man who also has a rebellious streak and a strong sense of his own worth. The name is given to the first “hero” in Austen’s stories, the self-regarding Frederic of “Frederic and Elfrida.” Captain Tilney shares the name of Austen’s favorite fictional hero, Charlotte Smith’s Frederic Delamere, but has little of Frederic Delamere save his impatience. Frederick Tilney is evidently expert at rapid seduction, as impatient as his father to get at dinner. Annoyed by Catherine’s presence when he is trying to speak with Isabella, he is openly rude (NA, II, ch. 3). Like his father, he performs by cliché. Throughout his life, Henry will need to please—or at least not offend—this selfish elder brother. Henry’s choice of Catherine as a bride is probably his one piece of effective self-assertion in a lifetime.
Catherine Morland’s first name (the author’s second choice) is the name of a saint (Saint Catherine of Alexandria, patron saint of maids and virgins). In eliminating “Susan” in rewriting Austen may have borrowed the heroine’s name from her old unfinished story. The name signifies purity, though Austen here does not emphasize that by the spelling “Catharine” used in the early unfinished novel. Miss Morland is comically unsullied by impurity, pretensions, or deceit. “Open, candid, artless . . . knowing no disguise”—so Henry Tilney defines her, ironically pretending to be speaking of Isabella (II, ch. 10). Catherine’s brother James, more naive than his sister, is taken in for a longer period by the Thorpes. Austen has given the heroine’s endearingly foolish brother, an Oxford student who will be a clergyman, the name of her own eldest brother—James Austen, former Oxford student and also a clergyman in the making. Perhaps Jane wishes to cut her officious eldest brother down to size; she never gives his name to a strong or clever character. The father of Catherine and James, the Rev. Mr. Morland, is “a very respectable man, though his name was Richard” (I, ch. 1). This first name, always amusing to Austen, is associated with lack of intellect. A “Richard” is not well suited to rule. His unfortunate nickname would be “Dick.”
Eleanor Tilney’s dignified name is realistically appropriate to her rank. In Ethelinde Eleanor is the first name of the horsy gentlewoman Miss Newenden. It is the name of a powerful and effective queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II, who managed things for him in his absence. But Eleanor Tilney is never allowed to manage things. Essentially the same name is given to the most developed and morally authoritative female character in Sense and Sensibility. Elinor Dashwood, another half-orphan, may have her flaws and serious misfortunes, but she is not required—as Eleanor Tilney is—to yield to daily oppression. A kind of upper servant to her father, Eleanor must point out to Catherine how little power she actually has; presumably the general’s wife had nearly as little. Eleanor most misses departed Mrs. Tilney.
John Thorpe’s short and common first name, in use in all classes, cannot tell us much, but his manners quickly inform us that he is underbred and crudely pretentious. Isabella Thorpe’s showy given name, presumably her mother’s choice, is the name of a Spanish, not English, queen. On the fictional level her name is peculiarly appropriate for an advocate of Gothic novels. “Isabella” is the name of the heroine (or one of the heroines) of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), the first Gothic novel. The alternative heroine of Otranto is Matilda, unfortunate daughter of cruel Manfred (a position a bit too like Eleanor’s). That name turns up in Henry’s parodic story as author of “the memoirs of the wretched Matilda” (II, ch. 5).
Maggie Lane says that names like “Isabella” are suspect. Yet, Emma’s elder sister—placid and maternal—is an “Isabella.” Mr. Woodhouse, however, says that Emma’s sister was nearly christened “Catherine” (Emma, I, ch. 9). Perhaps Austen substituted “Isabella” for Emma’s sister because “Susan” had just been changed to “Catherine Morland.” John Thorpe fully abets the family project of finding a husband for Isabella and pushing on to a match. In order to further Isabella’s courtship of James Morland, John reluctantly takes his younger sister Maria driving with him. (The outing successfully results in an engagement.) But John would not drive his sister Anne, according to Isabella, “because she had such thick ancles” (NA, I, ch. 15). In this early work Austen already shows us an “Anne” who is left behind and denigrated. Anne finds solace with friends: “Catherine was. . . . glad that Anne should have the friendship of an Emily and a Sophia to console her” (NA, I, ch. 14). These two names are in vogue. The inadequate introduction of these girls by their first names alone (instead of as “Miss Sophia Somebody,” etc.) adds to our impression that Anne Thorpe is young and unformed.
The author makes some use of the penumbra, absent acquaintances, while sharply limiting the number of persons that the heroine encounters in Bath. Isabella strives for gentility when she refers formally to her friend “Miss Andrews” of Putney, “One of the sweetest creatures in the world” (I, ch. 6). Unlike Pamela Andrews, the Putney friend seems dull, if lowborn. Miss Andrews is “amazingly insipid,” despite one violently colorful appearance in “puce-coloured sarsenet” (I, ch. 6; ch. 15). “Miss Andrews” is largely a fictional character, a foil of Isabella’s invention. Isabella also mentions a “Captain Hunt,” one of her admirers “at our assemblies last winter.” If Hunt is fortune hunting—possibly like Captain Hunter in The Watsons—he could not take much interest in Isabella. Such banal names give us an impression (substantiated by “Putney”—see discussion in chapter 10) that the Thorpes’ social circle is middle class—or lower middle class—and undistinguished. John’s friend “Sam Fletcher” has a doubly plebeian name—a low nickname plus an occupational surname. A “Fletcher” is a “maker of arrows” (from Old French fleshier). The arrows fit in well with Thorpe-ish reference to hunting, which John claims ardently to pursue. The old Normans pursued deer through the greenwood, firing at them with bow and arrow. But Isabella is really the member of the family on the hunt.
The narrative has a high proportion of references to games and sports, starting with Catherine’s “cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country” (I, ch. 1). During this period there was new patriotic interest in traditional English games. Catherine’s pastimes may establish her as a true undiluted Anglo-Saxon woman. Flirting, dancing, courtship, seduction, and fortune hunting are more dangerous courtly games. Game playing is involved not only in the hazards of courtship but in the world’s most serious entertainment. That grand entertainment is the pursuit and acquisition of possessions—to which we are led by the “pool of commerce” during the evening “spent together at Thorpe’s” (I, ch. 11). The most amusing caper of this high-ranking if lethal game is the assumption of the right to transform a well-endowed convent by force into a personal mansion, while maintaining as a core principle the unquestionable absolute right to property.
Names in Sense and Sensibility
Surnames in Sense and Sensibility
The novel’s most striking—even astonishing—surname is “Dashwood.” The name is old, a mixture of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon: “de Dashwood.” (Dashwoods existed in Norfolk prior to the Norman Conquest.) In Sense and Sensibility, on a poetic level (important even amid the historical references), the name indicates “dashed from the wood,” like the fallen leaves that Marianne loves. Throughout the novel, things fall or are dashed away.
“Dashwood,” however, is most immediately remarkable because of its strong associations with a scandalous personage, a connection explored by Janine Barchas in chapter 5 of Matters of Fact. The most famous person to bear that surname in Austen’s era was Sir Francis Dashwood, fifth Baron Le Despencer (1708–81). Francis was a politician—a not too successful Chancellor of the Exchequer (1762–63) and Postmaster General (1765–84). His real achievement, however, was founding what was popularly called “the Hell-Fire Club.” This loose group met for several years in the ruins of Medmenham Abbey, remodeled by Francis Dashwood to suit carousals. The scene of orgiastic operations then moved to his own home at West Wycombe Park. One notable achievement in landscape gardening at Wycombe was creating through the lawns, bushes, and founts of his gardens an anatomically complete representation of the female form, apparent to a viewer placed at the right vantage point. Hogarth depicted Dashwood in monkish robes, blasphemously contemplating the image of a naked female.
The Austens and the wicked Francis Dashwood were connected. Francis’s father’s daughter Rachel would marry Sir Robert Austen of Bexley in Kent. Robert Austen preceded Francis Dashwood as MP for New Romney; Sir Francis’s successor in that office in 1761 was none other than Thomas Knight of Godmersham, who adopted Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Barchas does not explore this connection, but Thomas Knight was well acquainted with Sir Francis and could probably have told his own stories about him. Francis Dashwood’s third wife was Mary King, and the next heir took the name of Dashwood-King. Sir John Dashwood (1765–1849), the fourth baronet, married a Mary Anne Brodhead from whom he became estranged. Sir John attempted to sell everything in order to spite her—an event that Janine Barchas connects with Fanny Dashwood’s desire to dispute her mother-in-law’s right to china and household furnishings. Dashwoods supplied much public gossip, but nothing exceeded in flamboyance the rich and deviant Francis. Janine Barchas suggests that “in her choice of the name Dashwood, Austen seems to court an audience for her first published novel by appealing to contemporary sensationalism.”9
Austen, however, had already used the name in the story of the mysterious “Miss Jane” in “A Collection of Letters” (1792). Miss Jane, daughter of the “the late Admiral Annesley” consented to a secret marriage with Captain Henry Dashwood, killed in America. Her children by that marriage died, and Miss Jane determined to remain “Miss Jane,” without the trouble of a surname. “I could not prevail upon myself to take the name of Dashwood (a name which after my Henry’s death I could never hear without emotion)” (Juvenilia, 195–96). In that early story the name “Dashwood” is associated with secret sex and with disappearance—the vanishing of love. In the first chapter of Sense and Sensibility we are given the situation of a Mrs. Dashwood, who accepts the surname of another “Henry Dashwood.” He too vanishes in death. Her entirely legitimate marriage is reduced by her stepson and his wife to insignificance. Mrs. John Dashwood even denies the union, to the extent of denying that her husband’s half-sisters are any true relation at all.
The name “Dashwood” thrust into prominence at the outset of a novel should offer a certain spicy resonance, expectations of sexual secrets. Ironically the sins of these Dashwoods are not sensational, the Dashwood family of Sussex having lived in “so respectable a manner” (S&S, I, ch. 1). John Dashwood and his mean-minded Fanny are not at all given to scarlet misdeeds. They are guilty of the commonplace sins: greed, avarice, and coldheartedness. Their coldheartedness, though not the self-centeredness of the seducer—that will be supplied by Willoughby—is in its way a perversion. The couple blasphemes continuously against moral and religious laws. They will do what they want with “their own” estate, assuming absolute license to possess and dismissing loyalty, stewardship, filial piety, or promise-keeping. Austen’s worst sinners all break promises, like Isabella who “promises faithfully” what she does not deliver. No promise breaker in Austen’s works is worse than John Dashwood, breaking a promise made to his dying father. But such a sin is not material for social opprobrium or delightful scandal.
The Dashwood sisters are, however, treading nearer the edge of scandal than they quite know. Fanny regards any hint of Edward’s interest in Elinor (or hers in him) as an outrageous trespass. Elinor is cast as the dangerous seductress. Elinor’s seduction and disgrace would please her sister-in-law, but Elinor’s marriage to Edward would be a social catastrophe. Elinor is too realistic—and too self-disparaging—to attempt to “entrap” Edward, although she falls in love with him before she believes that he cares for her: “I am by no means assured of his regard for me,” she admits to Marianne (S&S, I, ch. 4). Elinor is a dangerous romantic who has already overstepped a boundary. Throughout, Elinor’s unrealistic adulation of Edward’s intelligence and morality demonstrates a clouded judgment. Readers are effectively seduced into ignoring this fact by the pull of Marianne’s more overt sexuality and romantic wishes.
Marianne is in great danger of succumbing to sexual overtures; her unsupervised journey to Allenham with Willoughby offers sufficient room for unkind gossip to consider her already fallen (like the first and second Elizas). Within the novel we hear of no slurs on her reputation—although these would have been realistic. Marianne’s sexual and emotional enthusiasm makes her open as a target for any man remotely like one of the “monks” of Medmenham and High Wycombe. A “Dashwood” is notoriously the seducer, not the seduced. But both Dashwood girls are in emotional and sexual danger.
Sir John Middleton suggests an old-fashioned, countrified middle way between greed and generosity. His Saxon name means a tun (settlement) between other landmarks. The name “Middleton” (freshly celebrated since 2011 when a “commoner” became the wife of Prince William) has aristocratic connections; the Cassandra Willoughby who married the Duke of Chandos was “sister to Thomas Willoughby, Lord Middleton,” as Donald Greene pointed out. Jane Austen was connected (through the Leighs) to the Willoughby family who owned Middleton Hall. Yet she makes Sir John Middleton in his rural Devonshire a mere country squire, content to be so. This Middleton family is of a very middling nature, both in manners and style of living, although there is no real middle ground between Lady Middleton’s cold formality and Sir John’s old-fashioned genial hospitality. Lady Middleton is formal because she fears being vulgar, aware of her mother’s unacceptable City manners—or lack of them. Ironically, the frankness and spontaneity of Sir John and Mrs. Jennings (old-fashioned rural Tory and City Whig) make them better company for each other. They have not yielded to falsehood. Elinor’s continuing problem is that she must check spontaneity, guarding conduct and words, and operating with a degree of falsehood that Marianne theoretically bars.
Mrs. Jennings’s surname refers us to a historical personage not exactly bad and not exactly good. Sarah “Jenyns” or “Jennings” (1660–1744) became the wife of John Churchill and then Duchess of Marlborough (fig. 6). She is one of the most powerful women in English history. General John Churchill went back on his oath to King James II, changing sides to support the invasion of Mary and William. The family fortunes of the Churchill family were built on that timely act of successful treachery, in which John Churchill’s handsome and intelligent wife Sarah was an active assistant. A strong-minded woman, Sarah became a great friend of Princess Anne (later queen). Sarah could be good-humored and a lively conversationalist. But the two ladies fell out, as Sarah in her chosen role as “Mrs. Freeman” spoke her mind to the Queen Anne too frankly. Sarah’s temper was unreliable; she fell out with her own daughters and seems to have quarreled with the queen merely about a right of way through the park. This female Jennings was a politician who worked tirelessly for the Whig cause—and that of the Churchills. From a relatively modest position this commoner developed into one of the most loved, admired, and feared of women.
6. Godfrey Kneller, Sarah Churchill (née Jenyns [Jennings]), Duchess of Marlborough (ca. 1700). Photograph: © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Sarah was a target of satire, not least in Tory Delarivier Manley’s popular satiric novel The New Atalantis (1709), a roman à clef pillorying many glamorous courtiers. Among these is the redoubtably beautiful Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, former mistress of Charles II.10 In The New Atalantis both John Churchill and his wife come off as treacherous schemers and—like most of the inhabitants of “Atalantis”—given to illicit sex. It is suggested in the novel that John Churchill got his start up the ladder by sleeping with Barbara Villiers, then still the royal mistress. (See the champagne scene early in The New Atalantis.)
Jane Austen makes Mrs. Jennings a vulgarian who comes from the merchant classes of the City of London. (Such a person would be almost inevitably a Whig.) Mrs. Jennings has successfully proceeded on an upward trajectory. Shrewdly, she sent her daughters to fashionable schools where they could learn the gentry’s manners and accomplishments and thus change classes. She married both daughters off and up—to country gentlemen. This bourgeoise mother (a grandmother several times over) is a nosy, noisy, and dominant matriarch. Yet, unlike her namesake, she is not given to fits of ill temper, but exhibits generous good nature. Austen’s first impulse seems to have been to make Mrs. Jennings almost a caricature of gossipy vulgarity, but as the novel progresses the author, like Elinor, seems to have felt the attractions of this strong and practical female personality.
Even cheerful Mrs. Jennings has experienced grief. Her widowhood gives her a share in the novel’s themes of loss. One of the numerous signs that her manners are not those of a gentlewoman is her relating to Elinor all the details regarding the last illness and death of her husband. Both Austen and Elinor appear to find this a rude mark of her low class (just as they do Mrs. Jennings’s open reference to her daughter’s pregnancy). Yet, in expressing her feelings about her husband and airing her memories, Mrs. Jennings shows an unabashed if lower-class respect for bodily travails and for emotional experience—a respect lacking in other central characters. Here as in The New Atalantis we find a drinking scene involving an all-female party, but it is sympathetic and gracefully comic: Mrs. Jennings offers to Marianne a remedy that pleased her husband, “the finest old Constantia wine”; the much-tried Elinor drinks it (S&S, II, ch. 8). Mrs. Jennings’s fearless acceptance of bodily facts and her experience in nursing later make her a powerful resource; she is a staunch friend to the Dashwood girls during Marianne’s disappointment and illness.
How suitable that the name of Mrs. Jennings’s good wine should be “Constantia”! Mrs. Jennings exhibits the virtue of constancy—a virtue in remarkably short supply in the world of Sense and Sensibility. Constancy is not a modern virtue. It is more the style to discard persons of little use to personal advancement. Mr. Palmer, for example, when in town “was careful to avoid the appearance of any attention to his mother-in-law, and therefore never came near her” (S&S, II, ch. 5). The sympathetic central characters all experience loss and are disparaged or discarded by somebody. There is an autumnal tone to the novel, especially at its opening. Marianne regrets the leaves that will change color and fall without her being at Norland to see. She imagines that while she changes place the trees are eternally in place. Marianne does not realize that the John Dashwood will not only ignore arboreal beauty but also cut down trees for fun and profit. Her woods themselves will eventually be dashed away. Many things pass away in the course of the novel, things that will not return, like the girls’ father or Willoughby’s love—or his former image.
Willoughby’s name fits in with the “wood” or “tree” theme. This Norman Norse name (Wilgebi) came into England with the Norman Conquest, when Sir William de Willoughby was given a land grant. The name means “a settlement in a place of willows.” This aristocratic Norman name, as we have seen, plays its part in Jane Austen’s mother’s family, most notably in the Cassandra Willoughby who married the Duke of Chandos.11 The surname “Willoughby” also exhibits a remarkable novelistic history. It is the surname of Sir Clement Willoughby, the bantering rake in Frances Burney’s Evelina, who pursues the heroine not as a wife but as a mistress. A more emotive and lovable Willoughby is the hero of Charlotte Smith’s Celestina (1791). George Willoughby suffers from his father’s determination that he must marry a wealthy woman to save his estate. The young man is attracted to Celestina, the lovely orphan girl whom his mother has taken from a convent in France. The couple decide to brave poverty and marry—but on the eve of their wedding Willoughby is told (by interested parties) that he and Celestina are brother and sister. Shocked, Willoughby departs, leaving his beloved uninformed. In Smith’s novels a heroine is often traduced by lying deceivers, so it is understandable that Marianne clings to the hope that others are “leagued together to ruin me in his opinion” (S&S, II, ch. 7). Both Marianne Dashwood and the naive contemporary reader, therefore, have literary and emotional grounds to hope that our John Willoughby might yet be faithful, that there may be a complex explanation for disappearance and unkindness. Celestina (like Smith’s reader) comes to believe that Willoughby is planning to marry the rich Miss Fitz-Hayman to save his estate, as indeed he half-heartedly designs. An awkward and intense encounter at a party surely informs a critical scene in Austen’s novel.12
In an early story Austen experimented with a faithless “Willoughby”; “Edward Willoughby” is the absconding lover lamented by Sophia, who has often been rejected before: “I am not conscious of being more sincerely attached to Willoughby than I was to Neville, Fitzowen, or either of the Crawfords” (“A Collection of Letters,” Juvenilia, 194). Repetition makes Sophia’s fate less pitiable. Burney and Smith both exploit the labile nature indicated by the name, the tendency to bend like the willow to circumstances. The name implies a yielding quality traditionally expected of the female. In the old Anglican marriage service of Elizabethan usage the wife was to swear to be “buxom” in bed and at board—“buxom” meant possessing the yielding qualities of a tree in the wind. (Comically, the word later attaches to secondary female characteristics.) If a man bows like the willow tree, you cannot lean upon him. Some willows weep, and all bow. Willow is also an emblem of forsaken love. Traditionally, forsaken lovers were to wear the willow. (See Desdemona’s “Willow Song” in Shakespeare’s Othello.)
If “Willoughby” has a plangent elegiac tone, signifying aristocracy, weakness, and lost love, the name “Ferrars” is as shocking as “Dashwood.” This name of humble origin, based on fer (iron), refers to the work of a “farrier,” a man who makes iron horseshoes. The iron element in Mrs. Ferrars is discernible. Little does she know that she can be worsted by Steele—a tempered, more enduring, and flexible form of iron. Although the surname derives from a common and low form of work, it went upward. “Ferrars” was the family name of the Earl of Derby. It also became the name of a title. Barchas associates the Ferrers/Ferrars family with Catholicism,13 but that is not the dominant association in Sense and Sensibility. The famous—or infamous—bearer of the title in the eighteenth century was Laurence Shirley, fourth Earl Ferrers (1720–60). (The third Earl Ferrers had been “confined as a lunatic”: ODNB.) Laurence Shirley shot and killed his steward, probably because the steward was going to testify for Laurence’s wife in a case of marital separation. Laurence Shirley had imprisoned his spouse in his house in Leicestershire. (Imprisoned wives seem common enough to justify Catherine Morland.) The aristocratic murderer pleaded insanity but was sentenced to death. Earl Ferrers/Ferrars, wearing his wedding suit, was hanged at Tyburn on 5 May 1760. His execution allowed Britons to boast that all Englishmen were equal before the law.
To this list of scandalous names—including the title of the hanged earl—we should add the name of “Mr. Palmer,” husband of Lady Middleton’s sister. The word “palmer” means “bearer of palm branches” and refers to one who has been on a pilgrimage, especially to the Holy Land. The historical associations, however, are not at all pious. Mr. Palmer may be supposed descended from an issue of Barbara (née Villiers), or “Barbara Palmer,” wife of the complaisant cuckold Roger Palmer during her sexual connection with Charles II. “Roger Palmer” is a highly comical name. The first name has a commonly known “dirty” slang sense, “Roger” being an active verb and also a noun. (The obscene meaning, if often ignored, is presented in the pirates’ “Jolly Roger.”) Barbara Villiers, a devout royalist, became a Roman Catholic. Her son by Charles was given the surname “Fitzroy” and some rights of his own (fig. 7). It is entertaining to see the success of one of her (presumably Tory) male descendants. Mr. Palmer, an MP, has married (for money) the daughter of a Cit (Mr. Jennings, the merchant) with strong Whig associations such as Charlotte Palmer’s maiden name “Jennings” implies.
“Brandon” is both Norman (“de Brandune”) and English; Anglo-Saxon “Brandon” can mean a “hill where broom grows.” The Scandinavian brand could refer to a “firebrand” or “sword.” The name “Brandon” thus carries within it a suggestion of violence and fire—as in Richardson’s troublemaking “Parson Brand” in Clarissa (whom Lovelace calls a “fire brand”). Jocelyn Harris points out that the surname of Richardson’s “Mr. B.” is implicitly identifiable as “Brandon” in the 1801 edition of Pamela in which B.’s residence is “Brandon Hall.”14
“Brandon” might be taken as another scandalous historical name; Patrick Parrinder connects it with the surname of Charles I’s executioner.15 A more likely historical source is Charles Brandon, first Duke of Suffolk, brother-in-law to Henry VIII.16 Brandon married his fourteen-year-old ward Katherine Willoughby, an heiress whom he had originally designed as a match for his son and heir. (Katherine presumably had no say in the matter.) Similarly Colonel Brandon’s brother took in marriage his father’s unfortunate ward, the first Eliza. In both cases a duty of guardianship was grievously abused. At his death, however, Charles Brandon was praised by Henry VIII, who claimed that “his brother-in-law had not made any attempt to injure an adversary, and had never whispered a word to the disadvantage of any one.”17 Our Colonel Brandon, if not as unrealistically inoffensive as the eulogized figure, is certainly unwilling to give offense.
From the Ferrars family’s point of view, Brandon is a troublemaker, a firebrand. Under the influence of Elinor, he offers Edward an occupation and a means of livelihood. Yet branded, marked by his past, he seems eternally fated to be almost passive. Young Brandon in the end bowed to his father’s will and acquiesced in the financially motivated marital rape of Eliza by his elder brother. He gives up and goes away. He carries a sword but is not dangerous. True, he fights a duel with Willoughby, but it is inconsequential.
7. Peter Lely, Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland with her son, Charles Fitzroy, as Madonna and Child (ca. 1664). Photograph: © National Portrait Gallery, London.
In Sense and Sensibility Austen experiments with the introduction of an ambitious penumbra with multiple associations and gradations of class and activity. Unimportant personages referred to but not appearing as characters supply depth to the class relationships and history. “Old Gibson,” a farmer, used to occupy East Kingham Farm, which John Dashwood purchases. The name means “son of Gilbert”; probably a Norman family owned that farm or rented it from the king, long ago. “Lady Courtland,” friend of Robert Ferrars, presumably courts those who possess land. The “Careys” with their West Country Norman name live in the Barton neighborhood. “Mrs. Carey” is the caretaker of the heroine as a child in Emmeline; the handy Carey family takes care of Margaret when Mrs. Dashwood dashes to the endangered Marianne. We also hear of a nearby family named “Whitaker,” a suitable West Country landowner’s name deriving from “wheat-acre” or “wheat field.” Robert Ferrars has a friend named “Elliott” who lives near Dartford (in Kent) and owns an immense “cottage” in which he and Mrs. Elliott (with the judicious advice of Robert) give a party and a dance for eighteen couples. It would be nice to suppose that this fashionable Elliott—who must be as silly as Robert—is related to the proud family of Persuasion.
Mrs. Ferrars endeavors to promote a union between her shy son Edward and “the Hon. Miss Morton, only daughter of the late Lord Morton, with thirty thousand pounds” (S&S, II, ch. 11). Miss Morton is one of the shadowy gray characters who crowd the margins of this story, interfering with other lives without even appearing. The name “Morton” derives from an ordinary locative, meaning “settlement on a moor or on marshy ground” (Mills). This name has a tang of death about it (mors, mortis). Miss Morton is a desirable match now that her father is “the late,” leaving her a clear share of his property. The dead lord offers another instance of bereavement, and Miss Morton balefully stands for the mortality of Elinor’s own erotic hopes. We have actually no assurance that Miss Morton falls in with the scheme of Mrs. Ferrars, who seems to imagine that her giving Edward a thousand a year would provide sufficient financial inducement. Is her son’s union with the daughter of Lord Morton just a pipe dream of the unsociable and stingy widow?
Mrs. Jennings introduces an aura of the bourgeoisie. Her friends are City people, not landowners, but “in trade.” She pauses in Kensington Gardens to speak to a “Mrs. Clark,” whose low name is derived from the occupation of writing and copying. The “Parrys” and “Sandersons” are City friends whom she invites to dinner. “Parry” (also featured in Northanger Abbey) is a drink of pear juice. Sanderson, “son of Sander” (or Alexander), is northern and Nordic. Mrs. Jennings’s friend “Mrs. Taylor” passes on gossip about Miss Grey’s engagement. Her married surname is derived from the craft of a maker of clothes—a low name. (This occupational surname will be used for a character favorably seen in Emma.)
Anne Steele’s unguarded public remarks on acquaintances give away her original place in life. Unlike her aspiring younger sister, she fails to bother to pretend. In search of potential “beaux” she does not rule out office clerks “provided they dress smart and behave civil.” She cites “Mr. Rose at Exeter, a prodigious smart young man, quite a beau, clerk to Mr. Simpson, you know” (S&S, I, ch. 21). “Rose” (also “Royce”), an English name of Norman origin, is sometimes a Jewish surname, making it “low” according to English prejudice. Simpson, “son of Sim or Simon,” is a Devonshire name (Reaney & Wilson). Anne has gossiping friends in London, Miss Godby and Miss Sparks, who don’t believe any man in Edward’s position would “give up a woman like Miss Morton, with thirty thousand pounds” (S&S, III. ch. 2). “Godby,” old Scandinavian (“farm of a man called Gauti”: Mills), derives from a place name in Leicestershire. “Sparks” is Old Norse spraec, lively, sprightly. (Mrs. Austen refers to “my own Sprack wit.”)18 “Godby and Sparks” sounds like a comedy team. These persons are obviously “low,” like all the Steele connections.
Anne Steele likes to be teased about Dr. Davies, a Doctor of Divinity, of (probably) Welsh origins. Other Celtic names include the two apothecaries; talented men from the “Celtic fringe” succeed in this lower branch of the medical profession. Mr. Donavan, who attends Charlotte Palmer’s baby and the hysterical Fanny Dashwood, has an entirely Irish name. (Non-Norman Irish names are rare in the Austen novels). Harris, the apothecary who attends Marianne, has a name indicating Scottish origins. After their ejection from Fanny Dashwood’s house, the Steele sisters stay with friends, the Richardsons. Jocelyn Harris thinks the surname a hidden tribute, to Samuel Richardson.19 The great novelist would scarcely be flattered by association with the Steeles’ acquaintances.
The Steeles’ most interesting connection is their uncle, Edward’s tutor “Mr. Pratt.” His name suggests to us the part of the anatomy that figures in a “pratfall.” In Austen’s time it is differently comic—Old English praett means “a trick,” or (adjectivally) “cunning” or “astute.” The comic surname will serve for one of Wickham’s coterie in the militia. Yet, there is a very famous Pratt of an old Devonshire family, Charles Pratt (1714–94) (fig. 8). As Attorney General, Pratt led for the prosecution in the trial of Lawrence Shirley, Earl Ferrers, for murder in April 1760. This successful prosecution assisted Pratt’s rise; eventually he became Lord Chancellor. Pratt was made Baron, then Earl, Camden (1786). Charles Pratt consistently favored freedom, arguing against imprisoning radical Jack Wilkes and sympathizing with American colonists. He took a strong line against general search and seizure. We owe it to Pratt that “an Englishman’s home is his castle”—a phrase coined by a journalist in honor of Pratt’s decision in 1763 (ODNB). A Pratt might well be a person tough to tangle with—somebody on the side of the underdog. Other Pratts must have been left in Devon. Should we not consider Lucy partly Pratt? We see in what a lawyerly fashion she cites evidence for her cause, laying her proofs before the astonished Elinor. In a case of Pratt v. Ferrars we know who must win—though Mrs. Ferrars won’t be hanged.
Sense and Sensibility mocks while it investigates the pretensions of class and blood. There is plenty of low life, not only in the penumbra but at the very center. The names in this novel play with the concepts of “low” and “high.” Beneath the surface of the story—as beneath the appearances characters keep up—old scandals bubble. Scandal incites curiosity—that great engine of novel reading. Within the novel we follow Mrs. Jennings’s lead and more successfully ferret out the two seduced girls hidden within Colonel Brandon’s story. The ineluctable archetypal plot is repetitive. Men take what they want—birds, animals, lands, money, and women. Willoughby did not seduce Marianne, but it is, frankly, hard to doubt that he could have succeeded had he harbored such designs as she later fears he did (S&S, II, ch. 10). Marianne’s connection to Sir John Middleton probably saves her from being taken by Willoughby as an amorous partner. She is not a “Nobody” as Evelina appeared to Sir Clement Willoughby. The discerning John Willoughby helps himself to young Eliza Williams, seeing she has no status or family.
Sense and Sensibility uniquely employs personages who do not appear directly in speaking roles and yet are powerful drivers of the plot. Four such noncharacters function like characters. All are female: Eliza the elder; her daughter Eliza Williams; Mrs. Smith of Allenham; and Miss Grey. Eliza the First is the driver of the entire plot insofar as it concerns Marianne. Colonel Brandon’s one true love, Eliza was abused by her guardian and forced to marry his elder son. Eloping from the imposed husband, disgraced, and then abandoned, she became a prostitute. Her illegitimate daughter is given the surname “Williams”—Welsh and lower class. This second Eliza, a mere girl, visits Bath with a school friend and is picked up and seduced by Willoughby, who leaves her moneyless and pregnant. By the time we understand this affair we will already have seen Willoughby leaving Marianne abruptly, without explanation. This break, so vivid to us, evidently is Willoughby’s standard modus operandi. Presumably he had not recognized the schoolgirl Eliza’s connections to a gentleman’s family. Substitution and displacement are constantly at work. The two Elizas are scapegoats for male sexual and financial sin. Colonel Brandon is still in love with his first love, who has two duplicates: her distressed daughter and Marianne. Willoughby attracts both. Substitution and displacement also work in Elinor’s story. Edward would like to replace Lucy with Elinor, but cannot, until Lucy, constant in desiring Mrs. Ferrars’s heir, replaces Edward with Robert.
8. Francesco Bartolozzi, Charles Pratt, First Earl Camden (1795). Mezzotint engraving after a portrait by Thomas Gainsborough (ca. 1772). Photograph: © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Mrs. Smith, with the commonplace last name, is the owner of an estate that Willoughby expects to inherit. He takes Marianne to Allenham—“home of barbarians”—and teaches her how to be greedy for someone else’s house. At this juncture Marianne unpleasantly begins to resemble Fanny Dashwood. Mrs. Smith, revolted by news of Willoughby’s seduction of Eliza Williams, threatens to disinherit him if he does not marry the girl. She cuts off immediate financial supplies. In this tale of steel and iron (Steele and Fer) a mere “Mrs. Smith” becomes the “Smith” who forges fate. Willoughby rushes to London and throws himself into marriage with Miss Grey to pay his debts and insure his future.
The woman Willoughby eventually marries has a surname repeating that of the jeweler who owns the real shop, Gray’s in Sackville Street (S&S, II, ch. 11). That the Sophia Grey possessing fifty thousand pounds of dowry—the young woman who so ruthlessly marries Willoughby—had an aunt called “Biddy Henshawe” suffices to inform us that Willoughby’s fiancée is not of a gentle family (II, ch. 8). “Biddy,” old-fashioned nickname for “Bridget,” is hopelessly lower class; “Biddy Tipkin” is a young woman of the City with dreams of refinement in Richard Steele’s comedy The Tender Husband (1705). “Henshawe” sounds as if it referred to a “shaw” or wooded place populated by hens. Miss Grey’s guardians are named “Ellison (“Son of Ellis” or “Elias”), a Scandinavian formation of a name probably northern. Mrs. Ellison’s chat in a stationer’s shop in Pall Mall is overheard; her unguarded discussion of private affairs in public indicates imperfect gentility. Miss Grey has recently risen from the ranks of tradesmen.
Whether Miss Grey derives her fortune from the sale of jewelry or from a goldsmith artisan in something like Gray’s shop (another metallic reference), she purchases Willoughby’s family jewels with her gold—her dowry of fifty thousand pounds (II, ch. 8). Miss Grey is gray and shadowy to us. We see her in the background at the fatal party; she dictates the letter that the willowy Willoughby sends. She does not speak in our hearing, but she puts an end to Willoughby as a single man.
The Steele sisters have a type of surname most unusual in Austen. “Steele” was made famous by Sir Richard Steele, author of the Tatler essays and of dramas like The Conscious Lovers. Lucy Steele is both a tattler and a conscious lover—and a manipulative one. Lucidly and ruthlessly Lucy edges Elinor out of the competition for Edward, confronting her with the evidence that it is Lucy’s own hair (not, as Elinor dreamed, her own) that Edward sports in his ring. Lucy, hard as steel, recalls Pope’s The Rape of the Lock: “What wonder then, fair Nymph, Thy Hairs should feel / The conqu’ring force of unresisted Steel?”20 Lucy Steele, strong and resilient, is a “conquering force”—a match for any Ferrars, worker in iron. The Steele sisters are the only characters in major Austen works named after an inorganic substance. Other names refer to places, plants, other humans, or human activities. But the Steeles—or at least Lucy—can be inhumane and dauntless.
The novel plays with cutting implements. Edward, explaining Lucy’s marriage to the women of Barton Cottage, absently “took up a pair of scissors . . . spoiling both them and their sheath by cutting the latter to pieces” (III, ch. 12). Willoughby cut off a lock of Marianne’s hair. Colonel Brandon wears and wields a sword—the major steel weapon. But Lucy truly knows how to play with edged tools. Elinor gets only what Lucy does not want. Lucy, taking everything she wants from the Ferrars family, is indeed the force of unresisted Steele.
In all its comedy the novel is darkly shadowed and plays perversely with perverse things. It is hard to find the good where even the good are deluded. The story is haunted by theft and violence of the past. The well-meaning are beneficiaries of past sins. Brandon in his profession has supported the British depredations in India, the offense at the core of the trial of the Austens’ friend Warren Hastings. He benefits from what his ruthless father and brother have taken, including what they in effect stole from the father’s ward. Colonel Brandon is undoubtedly a gentleman—the only one in the story. But he defends nobody, stands up for nothing. A subordinate agent of exploitation (at home as in India), Brandon leads a life shadowed by the past, escaping into memories. He loves Marianne because she reminds him of someone else.
First Names in Sense and Sensibility
Edward Ferrars bears the Saxon name (Ead-ward = “riches” + “guardian”) a pre-Conquest royal name, the name of Edward the Confessor (ca. 1002–66), and most recently of Edward VI, defender of Protestantism who died young. It is an ironic Christian name for shy Mr. Ferrars, who has no riches to guard. Robert Ferrars’s French-derived Norman first name (the name of a French king) contrasts with the decided Saxon Englishness of “Edward.” In Ethelinde, the silly Clarinthia Ludford says that her brother’s name Robert is too common nowadays and she is changing it to “Rupert”—and the family goes along with her.
Three important male characters are named “John.” The name of Christ’s favorite disciple (author of the fourth Gospel) was the name of a bad pope and of England’s “Bad King John,” forced to sign Magna Carta. “John” is more common than aristocratic—see John Thorpe. In Sense and Sensibility “John” appears with ingeniously varied colorations: Christian name of John Dashwood, the girls’ mean half brother; of Sir John Middleton, the generous country squire; and of the charming and deceptive Willoughby. The surname “Jennings,” commonplace if old, is derived from the ingas or followers of a John/Jan. “John” appears a blank, on which its possessor can write what he pleases. Every “John” in Austen’s fiction has a core of inconsiderate self-centeredness. This may manifest itself in diverse ways, including Sir John Middleton’s rage for making people participate in social gatherings and John Knightley’s impolite aversion to them
Female characters’ first names in this novel are more strikingly varied. Sophia Grey’s first name in the Christian tradition means “Holy Wisdom”—but her wisdom is unholy. A perversion of the Sophia Western who rewards Tom Jones, Miss Grey purchases her late chance of a respectable marriage to a handsome man. Lady Middleton is a “Mary”—a favorite name of Austen’s for cold, selfish, and irritating females. This elder daughter’s correct coldness puts her in parodic parallel to Eleanor, reserved elder daughter of Mrs. Dashwood. Mrs. Jennings’s other daughter, Charlotte Palmer, is conventionally named after George III’s queen. Like other Charlottes in Austen’s oeuvre—including Charlotte Haywood in Sanditon—she is practical, steadily if irritatingly cheerful, and unintellectual. Charlotte Palmer (née Jennings) approaches a comic version of Werther’s Charlotte, like the madly practical cook Charlotte Luttrell in “Lesley Castle.” Lady Middleton’s younger sister, Mrs. Palmer is Marianne’s counterpart and parodic opposite. Rather than indulging melancholy, she greets blights and stolen hens with an empty laugh (III, ch. 6). It is assumed by Elinor—and by most readers—that grumpy Mr. Palmer blundered in marrying this inanely cheerful woman. But he probably got what he wanted—someone who will put up with his regular spurts of ill nature.
It was pointed out long ago that “Nancy” and “Lucy” reflect the names of Harriet Byron’s cousins and best friends, the Selby sisters in Sir Charles Grandison.21 Anne Steele’s nickname “Nancy” (once acceptable for Richardson’s Anna Howe and Anne Selby) is now old-fashioned. Vulgar Anne Steele has something in common with Anne Thorpe and even Anne Elliot. Annes are pushed around by siblings, regarded as useless to familial ambitions. “Lucy” was rendered cutely common as the name of “Lucy Lockit,” the jailer’s daughter in Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728). Austen already associated “Lucy” with provincial life and with lower middle-class status. In “Jack and Alice,” Lucy declares, “I am a native of North Wales and my Father is one of the most capital Taylors in it” (“Jack and Alice,” ch. 5, Juvenilia, 22). This Christian name is a tribute to Saint Lucy (Santa Lucia); it means “light” or “illuminator.” Saint Lucy’s Day, the year’s shortest day and longest night, is honored by the lighting of candles. Saint Lucia as a light-bringer is an ironic patron for the younger Steele sister. Lucy is a Lucia a non lucendo—far from shedding light, she sheds darkness.
Elinor, like Henry Tilney’s sister, bears the name of an English queen consort (differently spelled). Like Eleanor Tilney she is left with an important if thankless position in the family, filling in for a departed parent. Margaret Dashwood, chatty and curious, is the most attractive of Austen’s Margarets, who have in common a certain degree of pushiness and self-interest though they lack power and even competence. Austen inserts this third sister in Sense and Sensibility to break the spell of the dominant binary.
A key term in the novel, rather than merely an individual name, is “Marianne.” It is already Austen’s custom in naming characters to set up patterns of binaries: northern versus southern, for example, or Anglo-Saxon versus Norman. In Sense and Sensibility she introduces a gallery of characters with questionable credentials and many lines of opposition: Tory and Whig, gentle and middle class. But she raises the conflict to another level in putting the French Revolution at the center of this novel’s name game. “Marianne” is a realistic name; one of Austen’s connections was a “Marianne.” The compound combines two regnant English queens. But in this period it is unignorably revolutionary. Austen joking claimed to her niece Anna, “I think I can be stout against any thing written by Mrs. West” (28 September 1814; Letters, 277–78). But it is hard to doubt that she read A Gossip’s Story (1796) as soon as it appeared; West’s novel (an influence also detectable in Emma) is in the immediate background of Sense and Sensibility. The two novels have major motifs in common: the retirement to a dull plain place of impoverished parent and daughter; the rejection of a man who has seduced and abandoned a hapless girl; a young lady with too much sensibility and desire for romance; a sour mother-in-law who (like Mrs. Ferrars) regards herself as superior to the woman attached to her son.
In Jane West’s novel, Mr. Dudley, father of the two heroines Louisa and Marianne, runs into financial difficulties. Louisa, at her father’s desire, endeavors to reconcile herself to accepting the addresses of Sir William Milton, who could supply a respectable establishment. Father and daughter, however, are repelled on discovering that Sir William has seduced and abandoned a poor girl and her offspring. Louisa, after telling Sir William “I cannot reconcile my heart to a husband deficient in moral principle,”22 is much happier to accept a simple life in a cottage with her father: “I always had a turn for oeconomy and management; am quite a cottager in my heart, I assure you.” Her father warns her, “A cottage life . . . is not so pleasant in reality as in theory.”23 Indeed it is not. Louisa, for all her moral fiber, finds it hard at times to adjust, but presses bravely on. Marianne, well-meaning but not given to self-denial, has meanwhile turned down the plain and virtuous Mr. Pelham. She finds a rich and handsome husband, but her new relatives’ belief that she is an intruder from a lower class injures her feelings, and her own sensibility poisons her happiness. In West’s novel (as in Austen’s) the “Marianne” figure is not condemned nor rejected, even though she is imperfect.
Austen borrows many elements of the contrasting sisters’ experience, including loss of money and status, masculine callousness, and removal into a cramped unbeautiful residence. But Austen recomplicates the sites of virtue. Jane West more clearly espouses the self-controlled sister. A libertarian search for perfect happiness will foster conflict and self-indulgence. In making her second heroine “Marianne,” West intentionally challenges revolutionary values, though the character remains sympathetic.24 Austen, like West, both criticizes such new values as independence, honesty, spontaneity, and admits their attraction.
“Marianne,” a common name in Provence, had become the name for the new French Republic, the home of liberty. In 1792 a Provencal poet composed in Occitan a song, “La Guérison de Marianne”—“The Curing of Marianne.” The song, translated into Parisian French and sung to a well-known tune, “Two Little Savoyards,” describes the illness of the girl:
Marianne, trop attaquéee d’une grosse maladie,
Etait toujours malheureuse et mourant de misère.
“Marianne, attacked by a great malady, was always unhappy and dying of her misery.”
Various remedies fail to help: “The remedies of Louis are not good; nobody ever gets cured by those. But an ounce of Equality and two drachms of Liberty have freed her lungs.”25 “Marianne” as idea and image became an emblem of the new French state of Equality and Liberty. The young woman with the red Phrygian cap was to replace the image of Saint Mary with an attractive youthful embodiment of a new spirit. Association of “Marianne” with new revolutionary ideals explains the name of both West’s and Austen’s second sister. In Sense and Sensibility, spoiled little Annamaria, Lady Middleton’s little daughter, bears the same name reversed. Jane Austen may have known some version of the song “The Curing of Marianne,” or “Marianne’s Recovery”—which might almost serve as a subtitle of her novel. Lucy is an opposite of Marianne, claiming neither revolutionary nor conservative enlightenment. Lucy’s new lights are only the old base values of self-interest.
“Marianne” contains the Catholic “Maria,” linking this Dashwood sister to the unfortunate Maria Stuart. Her counterparts—and rivals—are named Eliza (Elizabeth). These rivals are victims. Yet the victims are winners too, and Marianne, if a survivor, is not exactly the victor. Eliza the First has already won the competition for the heart of Colonel Brandon; Eliza the Second received the sexual attentions of Willoughby. Each Eliza is thus a dominant “Elizabeth” in disguise. The fate of Marianne is controlled by her rival queens, ill fated and headstrong—a new twist on the relation of Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots. Marianne, in both her loves (Willoughby and then Brandon), comes second to a dominant Eliza. Elinor also comes second in Edward’s halting love career.
A whirlwind of sinful names hurtles about us in the novel: Ferrars, Dashwood, Marianne. (The presence of “Pratt” underlines the significance of Ferrars/Ferrers.) Even Mrs. Jennings has a dubious if magnificent historical counterpart in Mrs. Churchill (née Jennings). Mrs. Jennings’s son-in-law Mr. Palmer basks in the status bestowed by a glamorous prostituted ancestress. Seduction, treachery, betrayal, murder, cruelty, crime, and (rarely) punishment—all are found here. Sensibility runs riot in history and in current affairs. Great energies—financial and sexual—can spin out of control.
The conflicts set up in the novel are never brought into true balance. “Sense” means giving up and settling in Dorset. Marianne gives way to her family. Ang Lee’s film romanticizes Marianne’s wedding, but Marianne is an object of exchange, a means of settling a debt. She is pushed by her family to repay Colonel Brandon: “They each felt his sorrows, and their own obligations, and Marianne, by general consent, was to be the reward of all” (III, ch. 14; italics added).
Elinor gets the man she humbly craved, a wobbly “Ead-ward” who cannot guard anything but will need her guardianship. Edward always wanted a young woman who can replace his mother by telling him what to do. His new job in an exceedingly small rural parish will, happily, demand no more social performance than he is up to. The bashful man is again hidden away—as in Plymouth. Lacking any sense of calling, Edward Ferrars when we last see him seems more concerned with his cows than his parishioners. But perhaps people should come second to cows, in a story in which almost everyone of importance (including Mrs. Dashwood) is doomed to come second—never first.
The two Elizas have power only to haunt. This whole story is not told in the Gothic manner, but it is a tale of hidden crimes and the haunting of the present by the past. Sophia Grey is a gray phantom—but powerful. So is the unseen Mrs. Smith. Persons unimportant to readers (and to major characters) cut into important lives. Disappointment and scandalous possibility menace potential growth. John Dashwood callously dwells on Marianne’s loss of looks. “At her time of life, any thing of an illness destroys the bloom for ever! Hers has been a very short one” (II, ch. 11). The woods decay and fall. Everything loses its first careless bloom. We have to make do with what comes after, as the leaves become dashed from the wood.
Names in Pride and Prejudice
Surnames in Pride and Prejudice
Fitzwilliam Darcy doesn’t quite have a Christian name. That it is a surname is emphasized in the advent of “Colonel Fitzwilliam.” At the heart of Pride and Prejudice there is aggressiveness, and that aggressiveness centers on “Fitzwilliam.” As noted earlier, the Fitzwilliams were the richest family in England. The name speaks of Norman dominance and conquest. No Austen character other than Darcy has such a double dose of Norman in their name. The “Fitz” connotes original bastardy—“Fitz-William” hinting at an original begetting by the Conqueror himself. “Bennet” is also a Norman name, if not at once recognizable as such. Introduced by the Normans, it is a French version of Benedict/benedictus, “blessed.” The English pronounced the name of Saint Benedict (“Benoit” in Chaucerian French) as “Bennet.” We can also hear a kind of pun, on bien né or well born. At the time the novel was written, however, “Mrs. Bennet” would sound like “Mrs. Bennett,” the clever author (Agnes Maria Bennett) of lowly origins and improper life whose books and opinions sold well. Elizabeth Bennet is generated by fiction writing. Elizabeth’s claim to be Darcy’s equal is just, at least insofar as the Norman origin of surnames is concerned. “Fitzwilliam,” however, is strongly secular, while Elizabeth’s surname carries religious meaning. There was a church of Saint Bennet in Gracechurch Street, in the City of London. Burned down in the Great Fire of London (1666), it was rebuilt; Protestantism did not interfere with the name. The Bennets, messy and faulty as they are, are truly “blessed.”
Lady Catherine De Bourgh, Elizabeth Bennet’s chief antagonist, was “Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam” before her marriage to Sir Lewis De Burgh or de Bourgh (variously spelled by Austen). Sir Lewis’s first name indicates an admiration of French absolute monarchs. “Burgh” is rooted in English/Germanic burh, or “burg,” that is, fortification. The first De Burgh—or de Burg—was a companion of the Conqueror to whom William gave the responsibility of guarding Dover castle and hence of keeping Dover: “Hubert de Burg [sic] was appointed constable of this castle.”26 So, the founder of the De Bourgh family was a conquering ruler in Kent. There are other big De B(o)urghs of note, including the Hubert de Burgh, sheriff and later Earl of Kent, who remained faithful to King John and then Henry III. Hubert lived largely, at one point facing penalties for having greedily helped himself to treasure and revenues.27Successful invaders and conquerors, De Bourghs hold the fort, looking down on those whom they control. Lady Catherine, aggressively Norman, sits within her fortress of Rosings.
The Bingleys’ surname, contrasting with all these Normans, comes from the Danelaw, combining Old English and Norse. Bing + ley means “clearing made by ‘Bing.’” The Old Norse root word “bing” means horse. “Bing” might refer to someone living beside or working in a horse stall—Old Norse bingr. An Early Modern “Bingley” is likely a descendant from a native of Bingley in West Yorkshire, cited in Gough’s Camden in 1789 as a busy town with canals and locks.28 Our Bingleys originally came from Yorkshire. They followed the path of migration from a northern county toward south and center, like others including the higher-placed Elliots of Kellynch.
“Charles Bingley,” however, is not a name new to fiction; it belongs to a secondary male character in Regina Maria Roche’s The Children of the Abbey (1796). The heroine, attending a ball where she evokes admiration, attracts the envy of the mean Lady Euphrasia Sutherland.
“Can it be possible,” said Lady Euphrasia, replying to a young and elegant officer who stood by her, in a tone of affectation, and with an impertinent sneer, “that you think her handsome?”—“Handsome!” exclaimed he with warmth, “I think her bewitchingly irresistible.”
We then find out the elegant officer’s name: “Sir Charles Bingley, who was Colonel of a regiment quartered in an adjacent town.”29 Roche’s story combines some of the ingredients of Pride and Prejudice: sneering female rivals and would-be superiors, a scene at a ball, and a charming young officer who combines the roles of Austen’s Charles Bingley, Colonel Forster—and George Wickham as he should be.
The elder of Bingley’s sisters has married a southern English gentleman named “Hurst” (common Anglo-Saxon for a “wood” or “thicket”). If named for a feature of landscape, Mr. Hurst has no apparent landed property. Rather than a man on his way up, like Charles Bingley, Hurst looks suspiciously like someone on his way down. Card games seem an important source of income; evidently Darcy at Netherfield tells his host at one point that there is too much card playing. Among the likely problems looming before Charles Bingley and Fitzwilliam Darcy after marriage are not only the irritations of dealing with Wickham and Lydia, but also, most probably, the oncoming financial crash of the Hursts.
Mr. Collins’s name is ordinary, if slightly comic. Derived from “Col” (old nickname for “Nicholas”), “Colin” is diminutive; “Collins” originally meant “son of little Colin.” The author of the first Baronetage (1720) was a Collins. Another Collins was one of England’s most articulate atheists of the eighteenth century; Anthony Collins (d. 1729) published A Discourse upon Freethinking and other controversial writings, evoking the ire of Jonathan Swift. It may have amused Austen to give the name of this most notorious freethinker to her starched, ignorant, and sycophantic clergyman.
The surname of Sir William Lucas, the naive new-made knight, is not without some distinction. In antiquity it indicates someone from Lucania, hence the Late Greek name “Luke” (Loukos), name of the author of one of the gospels. The Lucas family had Royalist associations in the Civil War; the poet Katherine Philips (1632–64) gave one of her best friends and poetic addressees the name “Lucasia.”30 Perhaps Katherine Philips’s achievement as a poet softens the “low” surname Austen uses for Mrs. Bennet’s vulgar sister and her nonentity of a husband, Mr. Philips the attorney. “Philips” derives from the Greek name “Philip” (“lover of horses”). This first name, although apostolic, had become disused; Welsh associations register “Philips” as a “low” surname.
“Wickham” is not foreign and definitely not Norman. It comes from Old English wick (from Latin vicus, Romano-British settlement) + ham (habitation or home). This doubly locational term is the name of a town in Buckinghamshire. “Wickham” was already the name of a fictional rake—or his fictional name, the pseudonym adopted by the villain-hero of Mary Robinson’s A Natural Daughter (1799). The gossiping Sir Lionel Beacon describes his friend:
“An amazing good fellow, but astonishingly run out.”
“By gaming?” said Mr. Morley.
“By all sorts of sport. A capital dasher. Has debauched more wives and daughters than any man of his age in the three kingdoms.”
“And what is he doing in Derbyshire?” said Mr. Morley.
“That is more than I know. . . .” replied Sir Lionel. “Some snug intrigue. . . . An amazing fine fellow, only five and twenty, and astonishingly knowing.”. . . .
“And how does he call himself?” said Mr. Morley.
“His real name is lord Francis Sherville. . . . His travelling title is Mr. Wickham,” added the baronet.31
Robinson’s fake Mr. Wickham with Derbyshire connections is heartless, deceitful—and mobile. In Robinson’s novel, however, Sherville’s discovery of his illegitimate baby daughter has a softening influence upon him—as we doubt it would have done in the case of George Wickham.
George Wickham is not quite playing at being Wickham, for he cannot doff his “travelling title.” He has no title, family, or lands to fall back on. A name meaning “place-place” seems comical for such a rootless man. In a novel greatly concerned both with stability of place and with the crossing of boundaries, Wickham is a no-place. His surname, however, is sturdily Anglo-Saxon, and his first name suits patriotic persons, stable and stationary. Yet George Wickham is a force of instability, though his charms take in two of the most rational characters, Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Gardiner. To complicate matters further, within this novel mobility is one of the cardinal virtues. Wickham, free-floating and predatory, seems the antithesis of Elizabeth Bennet, even if she is briefly sexually attracted to him. But Elizabeth too is mobile, and she does need a stranger.
Wickham comes surrounded with giddy male companions, attractions in themselves, like the king’s posse in Love’s Labours Lost. His best friend is Denny—surname from the French Christian name “Denis” (patron saint of France). “Chamberlayne” whose surname suggests bedrooms and undressing, plays at cross-dressing. A woman named “Pen Harrington,” another immodest Penelope in Austen’s gallery, is present when Chamberlayne dresses as a lady. Wickham’s environment shimmers with gender play, an impression of fluid attachments. Wickham is nominally under Colonel “Forster”—a form of “Forrester” and a good name for one who comes from afar, from the wilds (cf. Italian forestiero). There are subtle hints that Forster early attracts the eye of Lydia, but the colonel soon marries. His young wife Harriet becomes Lydia’s best friend; the name of the thoughtful Harriet Byron in Sir Charles Grandison seems unmerited. In Brighton, Harriet Forster may have encouraged Lydia in the liaison with Wickham in order to deflect Lydia’s attention from her spouse.
Other characters playing an offstage role have significant names. Mrs. Younge, untrustworthy governess of Georgiana Darcy, proved susceptible to Wickham’s charm and bribes; she colluded with him in his planned elopement with the heiress. Later the keeper of a boarding house in London, she is traced by Darcy, who rightly suspects that Wickham will again turn to her for help. In championing youthful sexuality without regard to consequences the woman is a bawd but also eternally “young.” Youthfulness is her primary value.
Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper at Pemberley who exhibits the Darcy portraits, bears (as many have noticed) the surname of England’s most celebrated portrait painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds, former President of the Royal Society. “Reynolds” is a fairly “high” name, Norman with roots in Old German and Old Norse, and related to “Reginald.” Other characters in a service role include Mrs. Jenkinson, Anne De Bourgh’s companion/attendant. Her Scandinavian name structure indicates common origins. Edward Gardiner’s man of business or solicitor is called simply “Haggerston,” a harsh Anglo-Saxon surname based on hagger (“hacker,” “cutter”) (III, ch. 7, ch. 8). A haggers-tun is a woodcutters’ settlement. This Haggerston can hack his way through the dense thickets of Wickham’s debts.
Lady Catherine indulges in the unmannerly habit of referring to persons not known to her companions, including “the Miss Webbs,” “Lady Metcalfe,” and “Miss Pope.” “Webb” has been previously used in “Evelyn”; the all-too-benevolent Webbs give all they have to Mr. Gower—including their daughter. Lady Catherine’s exemplary Miss Webbs all play the piano—unlike the Bennet girls—although “their father has not so good an income as yours.” Lady Metcalfe (“meat-calf”) has expressed profuse gratitude at Lady Catherine’s having found her a governess in a Miss Pope, reportedly exclaiming “you have given me a treasure” (II, ch. 6). Miss Pope’s name might indicate piety, authority, or expertise in English poetry. Meeting a Calf who met a Pope as a Treasure provides a poetic undertone of the ridiculous. Lady Catherine resembles Mrs. Elton in dragging unknown names into the conversation, as well as in insistent matching of employers with governesses. Her patter makes her more comical and less formidable.
Mr. Jones, apothecary of Meryton, prescribed draughts for Jane when she was ill. His “shop-boy” spreads the news that “the Miss Bennets” have left Netherfield (I, ch. 15). A Welsh form of “John,” Jones is an archetypically “low” name. The inclusion of a “Jones” offers the reader a light hint to look to Fielding’s novel for Wickham’s effective presentation of himself to Elizabeth. (It is not only in Northanger Abbey that we find a female Quixote deluded by her reading.) George Wickham’s artful story, a fresh adaptation of Tom Jones, makes Darcy’s father into a Mr. Allworthy, Wickham into kind impetuous Tom, and Mr. Darcy into an evil Blifil.
Between flirting with Elizabeth and running off with Lydia, Wickham flirts with a Miss King. A “nasty little freckled thing” as Lydia complains (II, ch. 16), Mary King, present from the first assembly (where she dances with Charles Bingley), is not on our radar until Wickham turns from Elizabeth to her. Mary King’s inheritance of ten thousand pounds makes her briefly interesting to Wickham. “Mary King” was the name of one of the wives of the sinister Francis Dashwood. Presumably Miss King has a narrow escape from Meryton’s handsome Bluebeard who wants only her little fortune. Miss King is sent off to live with an uncle in commercial Liverpool—a banishment from the edge of fashion into outer darkness. Another stupid and willful “Mary,” Miss King is no princess, but (if against her own will) she succeeds in avoiding Wickham’s trap.
Elizabeth Bennet, like the roaming Wickham, needs to move in order to find what she wants. In changing places she unconsciously pursues a mate who is named after a place (like Bingley and Wickham). “Darcy,” a Norman name (“D’Arcy”), is derived from the French place name “Arcy”; “Darcy” entered England with one of William the Conqueror’s knights. The Irish branch of the Darcy family in Galway and Ulster is deep-rooted. There are genuine historical connections between Darcys and De Bourghs. John Darcy, made chief justice in Ireland, married Joan de Bourgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster. When William de Bourgh was murdered, John Darcy endeavored as “justiciar” to pursue his murderers; later that same year he led Irish forces against William Wallace (ODNB). In Austen’s era “Darcy” was the surname of the family of the Earl of Holdernesse. Austen may have been thinking of the Darcys while writing The Watsons, in which the most aristocratic (and most awkward) character is Lord Osborne. The blue-blooded notable of that surname in Austen’s era was Francis Osborne, eventually fifth Duke of Leeds (1751–99). While Marquess of Carmarthen, Osborne married Lady Amelia D’Arcy. But in 1778 his marchioness ran away with Captain Jack Byron (father—by another union—of the poet). Lord Osborne’s self-indulgent awkwardness and voyeurism in relation to Emma Watson augur an unsatisfactory marriage partner—just as Amelia D’Arcy discovered. Perhaps Austen would not care for anyone who wronged a D’Arcy.
The surname occurs in other fiction. In Susannah Minifie’s Barford Abbey (1768) the object of the heroine’s interest, shy “Lord Darcey,” has just come of age; his guardian Sir James has dinned into him “that he must marry prudently; which is, that he must never marry without an immense fortune.”32 In Charlotte Smith’s one-volume novel entitled simply D’Arcy (1793), the titular “hero” is a heroine—D’Arcy Beaufoy is a girl! Her name signifies “Darcy Beautiful-faith.” Fitzwilliam Darcy’s faith may be beautiful, but we cannot at first see through the Fitzwilliam arrogance to his goodness. The other side of Darcy is the spiritual aspirant, the self-sacrificing Lord Darcy.
First Names in Pride and Prejudice
Edward Gardiner lives up to his name: he is a true Ead-ward—guardian of riches. He spends his own money and time to protect the Bennet family, valuing his kin as his treasure. Edward Gardiner is a strong contrast to the weak, vacillating and untruthful Edward Ferrars.
Mr. Bingley’s parents have mimicked staunch royalists in giving their children the names “Charles” and “Caroline” (like the Grandison siblings). This may have been intended to make their family seem old and conservative. Sir William Lucas with the Whiggish first name has named his daughter “Charlotte,” presumably after Queen Charlotte. His second daughter is “Maria,” perhaps a reaching after upper-class Stuart elegance. Loyal even before knighthood was bestowed upon him, Sir William is trying to become a good Tory. Charlotte Lucas is certainly as practical as any Charlotte of them all. She lets nothing go to waste and efficiently consumes leftovers, including putting a friend’s leftover suitor to use as a husband.
George Wickham has a strong first name, the name of the patron saint of England, recurrent name of Hanoverian monarchs—and the name of Austen’s own father. It will be the first name of Mr. Knightley. “George” suits landowners and land workers. The value of such earthy occupation is reflected in the surname of Mrs. Bennet’s brother (also Mrs. Bennet’s maiden surname). They are Gardiners—“gardeners,” people close to the earth and sustenance. City merchant Edward Gardiner yet sustains the primal values, true to Adamic roots. Wickham targets as marital prospects only those females who bring ready money—not lands. Wickham forsakes—perhaps abhors—that primal georgic work. His father, the elder Mr. Darcy’s steward, participated in it, rather as Jane’s great-uncle Francis served the Duke of Dorset and others as steward and agent.
Darcy’s father named his daughter “Georgiana.” This female version of “George” arose in the Hanoverian era. The most famous “Georgiana” was Georgiana Cavendish (née Spencer, 1757–1806).33 Married off to the Duke of Devonshire on her seventeenth birthday, Georgiana recorded her first discomforts in her marriage and in London society in her novel The Sylph (1779). The Duchess of Devonshire, as famous for beauty and charm as her collateral descendant Princess Diana, was a fashion leader and a celebrity. The Devonshire marriage, however, was most unhappy, and her attempt at escape did not work. Georgiana’s image, widely circulated in paintings, prints, and caricatures, inspired lesser folk to choose the new name. Within Pride and Prejudice, the name invokes the beautiful duchess, suggesting charm and a dangerous tendency to sexual adventure.
The background presence of Georgiana Cavendish contributes to the novel’s exploration of female sexuality. In one of the novel’s most amazing statements Mr. Bennet earnestly offers Elizabeth a warning of future perils if she married a man she could not love or respect: “Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger. . . . You could scarcely escape discredit and misery” (III, ch. 17). He is warning his own favorite daughter that in a bad marriage Elizabeth could be tempted to adultery—as Jane Austen knew from the case of Elizabeth, Countess Craven. Mr. Bennet shows an unexpected sympathy for the power of the female sex drive. Such sympathy is entirely lacking in Sir Thomas Bertram—who totally misreads his daughter Maria. Not surprisingly, a teenaged “Georgiana” could be tempted into an elopement by a charmer like Wickham. Georgiana Darcy is not (like the duchess) brutally thwarted by an abusive husband but saved by the kind concern of a brother. Still, the misadventure has not helped her lack of self-confidence.
The names of the first four Bennet girls are traditional names of saints and of English queens, two regnant. Jane Bennet has the name of a queen, the humble and self-sacrificing Jane Seymour. She was presumably named after her mother, Mrs. Bennet, also good-looking in youth—and neither humble nor self-sacrificing. Mary Bennet’s first name, that of the greatest Christian female saint, is almost always attached by Austen to negative characters—from the silly greedy Mary who will marry Mr. Watt in “Three Sisters” to the self-pitying Mary Musgrove of Persuasion. But if Mary Bennet was named after her mother’s sister-in-law, then Mrs. Gardiner is a rare excellent “Mary.” “Kitty” is another “Catherine,” weak and recessive where Lady Catherine, like Catherine the Great, is overbearing. But Lady Catherine is more ineffectual than she realizes. Most “Catherines” in Austen’s oeuvre are somewhat clueless. Lady Catherine’s daughter Anne, named after her aunt (Darcy’s mother), bears the name of England’s last powerful queen regnant. Anne De Bourgh, however, is shy, weak, and in bad health—probably doomed to die young.34 Again we see an “Anne” pushed around by her family and to some extent ignored.
“Lydia” is a different sort of name. Lydia is a region in Asia Minor, known for making purple dye. Names of their native regions were often given to slaves; the “Lydia” in the New Testament may be a freedwoman. Anything “Lydian” is exotic and highly colored, associated with luxury and hedonism. Lydian music connotes erotic pleasure, as in Dryden’s Alexander’s Feast: “Softly sweet, in Lydian Measures, / Soon He sooth’d his Soul to Pleasures.”35In Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals (1775), a play performed by the Austens at Steventon in 1784, the novel-reading “Lydia Languish” desires to be loved for herself. She wishes to throw away her fortune and elope romantically with a handsome young man—unbeknownst to her, the very man her guardian has picked out for her to marry. Captain Absolute will certainly not risk Lydia’s fortune (the main but not sole reason why he is attracted to her); elopement plans are a charade on his part. Lydia Languish will never ride in a fast carriage behind galloping horses speeding to Gretna Green. Neither will Lydia Bennet. Lydia Bennet thinks she is loved for herself and engages in an “elopement” that brings sex and no marriage—social disgrace—until she is “rescued” by being legally tied to her cad.
Darcy’s first name reeks of wealth pride, greed, and illegitimacy—not blessedness. It is not properly a Christian name, not a name invoking divine grace. Mr. Darcy may be hampered in the spiritual race by such a worldly name. It differs from the humbler ordinary “William” of Mr. Collins and Sir William Lucas. The proposals of a “William” and of a “Fitzwilliam” are both rejected by Elizabeth—at first. After all, Mr. Collins is not wrong in suspecting that an elegant female may be persuaded to accept on the second try.
Elizabeth Bennet’s first name is a “Christian name,” but it also suggests pride and haughtiness—if also wit and intelligence. She is a contrast to the two Elizas of Sense and Sensibility, although these possess the sexual energy that Mr. Bennet saw in his daughter. “Elizabeth” is the name of a biblical saint (Saint Mary’s cousin, mother of John the Baptist) and of England’s most powerful queen. Important Elizabeths in Austen’s fiction vary—including the good-natured vulgar Elizabeth Watson, the cold Elizabeth Elliot and the frightening Mrs. Norris. Yet these are all eldest daughters, and they are all domineering. Except for the deceased Lady Elliot, Austen’s Elizabeths—including Fanny Price’s youngest sister, irritating Betsey—share an assertive quality, entirely discernible in Elizabeth Bennet. Perhaps Elizabeth Bennet is more engaging and less overbearing than the more off-putting of Austen’s Elizabeths because she is in the humbler position of second daughter, not the eldest. That is, Elizabeth Bennet is in the position of Jane Austen, not of Cassandra Elizabeth Austen. Although in her “History of England” and in Catharine Austen protested herself an admirer of Mary Queen of Scots and an opponent of Elizabeth, she gave her most loved character the name of England’s strong, victorious, and witty queen.
In revenge for the cheated and shadowy Elizas of Sense and Sensibility, Elizabeth Bennet is life and power. She wins what she wants and needs. In this novel Austen shows that important mistakes can be rectified. We can learn as we go. Strong people develop. Pride and Prejudice is the Enlightenment novel par excellence, advocating freedom and progressive alteration. The very word “prejudice” is an Enlightenment word—and once you recognize an attitude as a prejudice you are already changing. In Emmeline Charlotte Smith allowed her heroine to change her mind, to switch from one man to another—a daring move that Austen repeats. Surprisingly, Austen here pursues her themes without protracted or insistent use of style indirect libre (or “free indirect style”) already beginning to appear as a feature in Sense and Sensibility. There are subtle touches of it, but the author refrains from extensive use. Style indirect quietly emphasizes character’s delusions; Elizabeth is not exhibited as inwardly contaminated by her delusions regarding Wickham. This novel works largely on objective narration and dialogue. Characters look outside themselves.
That does not mean that even the best are good at handling the external world. Pride and Prejudice presents a multitude of socially inept persons. Obvious cases are Mrs. Bennet, Mary Bennet, and Mr. Collins, but the list takes in almost everyone, including Darcy the stiff and Elizabeth—sometimes aggressive and vulgar. Most characters go awkwardly through social meetings, drawing at hazard on whatever resources they can command at the moment. Mary Waldron convincingly argues that Mr. Collins has studied Lord Chesterfield on “the art of compliment.”36 Lady Catherine does not realize she needs social training, but Elizabeth’s remarks comparing manners to piano playing suggest kindly that we all need intelligence and practice (II, ch. 8). Mr. Darcy fears “strangers”—but strangers are our salvation.
Social meetings, awkward and artificial, occasions for boorish errors, are also the bases of enlightenment. The novel exhibits in the names of its characters—Norman, Saxon, and Danish, low and high—the English variety of origins, classes, and attitudes, parties in historical conflicts and regional differences. All of these need to be shaken up together and put in a civil condition. Learning to compromise with and respond to each other is a vital unfinished process. This novel’s enduring appeal lies in the support that its “love story” offers to our Enlightenment hope that personal or conventional estrangements and inherited aversions can be overcome. We can create a new culture, however far from perfection we are on any given day.
Mr. Darcy’s behavior at the Meryton Assembly is rather like that of the “bear” (ours) on which the French place name “Arcy” is supposedly based. His name almost sounds and looks like “dark” (some suppose the name to be based on Erse terms for “dark,” O Dorchaidhe). A dark and glamorous bear wanders into a ballroom and the expectations of sexual courtship as if he had wandered into a riddle. The not-quite-a-Beast bear does not dance with the not-quite-a-Beauty. Their successive encounters with each other are something like a blundering dance. Every savage can’t dance—it takes time.
Darcy’s baser side, his bearishness, supported by pride and shyness, is accompanied by his high side. In trying to explain himself and his defects to Elizabeth, he blames his parents a little, saying they “allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing . . . to think meanly of all the rest of the world” (III, ch. 16). Yet, as he has just stressed the goodness of his father (“all that was benevolent and amiable”), we can deduce that the haughty and overbearing attitudes were transmitted by the Fitzwilliam parent, his mother, Lady Catherine’s sister. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s true spiritual nature is hidden within his surname, the name of a Tudor hero beheaded for a leading role in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Mr. Darcy’s best ancestor is not the land-guzzling Conqueror from whom he (illegitimately) descended, but the man who would lay down his life for what he believed a cause of grace. Darcy is on a Pilgrimage of Grace, though he does not know it. He is reconciled with those officially “below” him in Gracechurch Street (the street where the church of Saint Bennet [Saint Benedictus, Saint Blessed] is still to be found). The dwellers in Gracechurch Street reflect the first paradise—and Adam and Eve’s first occupation—in the name “Gardiner.” And Darcy joins himself to the impudent, witty, somewhat vulgar blessed one, who is also a queen: Elizabeth Bennet.
All novelists, even those who resist, play to some extent with allegory—or perhaps allegory plays with them. This outline of Pride and Prejudice in terms of Grace and Pilgrimage and Blessedness is not meant to be taken even as seriously as the comic allegory in Tom Jones, with its Allworthy and Paradise Hall. But Austen’s playful meaning is entwined about the characters. There are many small jokes and verbal games along the way in this “light and bright and sparkling” novel. The best joke within a character’s name is a very light touch of riddle indeed. A Mr. Morris is the original owner of the Netherfield estate, which he rents to Charles Bingley, thus setting off the entire celebratory and playful “Morris Dance” of the story.