Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places

Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places

Language: English

Pages: 440

ISBN: 022641910X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In Jane Austen’s works, a name is never just a name. In fact, the names Austen gives her characters and places are as rich in subtle meaning as her prose itself. Wiltshire, for example, the home county of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, is a clue that this heroine is not as stupid as she seems: according to legend, cunning Wiltshire residents caught hiding contraband in a pond capitalized on a reputation for ignorance by claiming they were digging up a “big cheese”—the moon’s reflection on the water’s surface. It worked.

In Jane Austen’s Names, Margaret Doody offers a fascinating and comprehensive study of all the names of people and places—real and imaginary—in Austen’s fiction. Austen’s creative choice of names reveals not only her virtuosic talent for riddles and puns. Her names also pick up deep stories from English history, especially the various civil wars, and the blood-tinged differences that played out in the reign of Henry VIII, a period to which she often returns. Considering the major novels alongside unfinished works and juvenilia, Doody shows how Austen’s names signal class tensions as well as regional, ethnic, and religious differences. We gain a new understanding of Austen’s technique of creative anachronism, which plays with and against her skillfully deployed realism—in her books, the conflicts of the past swirl into the tensions of the present, transporting readers beyond the Regency.

Full of insight and surprises for even the most devoted Janeite, Jane Austen’s Names will revolutionize how we read Austen’s fiction.

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fortune—to take her meals at the Great House, to get a free baize curtain. Aware at some level of her resemblance to Fanny (both hangers-on of the Bertrams, and competitors for their bounty), she needs to keep Fanny down. Mrs. Norris’s life is based on an intuition that survival is a competition. With superiors she guards herself by rapid talk and flattery. While she has a kind of intimacy with her own servant, she is unused to formal service and is uneasy at “the passing of the servants behind

though he stresses that his son should live in his parish.19 Antigua is not contiguous with Mansfield, but is yet an invisible center, as well as a distant place on the globe. Jane Austen could have known something of the West Indies. The sons of George Austen’s half-brother William had settled in Jamaica. Tom Fowle, Cassandra’s fiancé, went with Lord Craven on the West Indies campaign as chaplain and died of yellow fever in San Domingo in 1797. The Willoughby family figured prominently in

financially sound, and comfortable, if almost equally unglamorous. We hear about a couple of estates that are not in or near Highbury—not in Surrey at all. “Balycraig,” family seat of Mr. Dixon in Ireland, is the new home of the former Miss Campbell. Miss Campbell’s Scottish identity might have made attaching to an English landed proprietor seem too difficult, although she had a dowry of twelve thousand pounds. “Baly”—more customarily nowadays “bally”—is a version of baille, a common English

on them—literally, for he lives in Camden Place, on Beacon Hill, at or near the very top of Bath. Philip Thicknesse (obsessed with “Putrefaction”) recommends the heights of Bath: “It is said . . . that old Age itself is nothing more than a tendency to Putrefaction; if this be true, Men in Years should prefer a high situation for their Dwelling.”82 Sir Walter’s “lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence” would suit not only the baronet’s inordinate sense of superiority but

property belonging to the great Whig family of Fox. This gigantic showplace was first put up for auction in 1797, and its household items were auctioned in 1801.87 “Redlynch” was once Redlisc (hreod [reed] + lisc), “reedy marsh.” Austen substitutes the harsh and unfamiliar first syllable “kell.” In Irish names, Kill or sometimes kell means “church” or “churches.” But Old English or Norman Kell comes from kelda, Old Norse for “spring,” found in many Irish and some English place names (e.g.,

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