How Jane Austen got names for her characters
Posted by Caroline on May 11, 1998 at 19:08:22:
This post is a result of a conversation on the P&P Board, and of information requested by Erin L. I hope it's what you were looking for, Erin!
The book Jane Austen A collection of Critical Essays edited by Ian Watt ,Prentice Hall, 1963, is an article called "Jane Austen and the Peerage" by Donald J Greene. In it, Mr. Greene speculates about.how JA came up with names for her characters, starting with the suggestion by RW Chapman that she was inspired by Fanny Burney's novels to concentrate on the real nobility of Northern England. Mr. Greene goes further however, and I think its worth quoting his exact words, because I really cannot make it any simpler than he has done:
"But the matter seems to be more complex than this. Robert D'Arcy, fourth and last Earl of Holdernesse (1718-1778) and William Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl Fitzwilliam, (1748-1833), were both great men in Whig political circles, holding high Ministerial office from time to time. They had a colleague and relation, even more prominent in affairs of state, ...............In 1782, the Marquessate of Rockingham became extinct, on the death of Charles Watson Wentworth, of Wentworth Woodhousein Yorkshire, Marquess of Rockingham, Prime Minister of Great Britain, and political head of the Whig aristocracy. The Wentworth and Woodhouse families were united in the thirteenth centuries when one Robert Wentworth married a great heiress, Emma Wodehous . The senior line of the Wentworth Woodhouse family achieve a baronetcy under James I. A sister of the first baronet married the heir of the D'Arcy's , and the eldest son of the first baronet was the great Thomas Wentworth , Earl of Strafford*..........Strafford's son left no issue, and his estate descended to the children of his sister Anne Wentworth , who had married Lord Rockingham, head of the Watson family.It was a later Anne Wentworth, who in 1744, married the third Earl Fitzwilliam; and on the death of her brother the Prime Minister, who was childless, the fortunes of the Watsons, Wentworths, and Woodhouses all devolved on the Fitzwilliams."
Mr. Greene goes on to point out that all this information was published in a book called Collins' Peerage of England , and that the Fitzwilliam pedigree also contains Bertrams and Musgroves, an ancestor of the Earls Ferrars marries Eleanor, daughter of Sir Hugh Willoughby of Middleton , Dashwoods, lords Le Despencer, and the Eliots, also the Bennets, Earls of Tankerville, and an extinct barony of Bingley . It seems the author, Mr. Collins, was grovelling and obsequious in his writing (!) Mr. Greene also notes that JA had a relative, one Edgerton Brydges, who may have tried on several occasions to impress upon Miss Austen his own ancient lineage, and quoting him as saying , in another context..."My male stock is baronial from the Conquest; ascending ......to Johannes de Burgo (Monoculus), founder of the House of De Burgh."
Mr Greene doesn't say that the personalites of JA's characters can be linked to these names, and he takes pains to point out that just because these are great Whig Families doesn't indicate anything about JA's politics.
What of other names and other sources? Well, there has been speculation that Knightly was based on Knight, the name of Jane Austen's brother, and I remember reading somewhere, perhaps on Austen-L ,that someone had found the name Knightly on gravestones in Surrey. (Sorry to be so vague about this, if someone knows more, I'd love to be told!) Also , at the back of the Novel Sanditon- by Jane Austen and Another Lady is a statement by the author that Sanditon was probably Sidmouth (I think- memory rot again!) and buried in a churchyard there are William Larkin and Robert Martin . I cannot find any references to Wickhams, and can only think that she got the name from the place- the Dashwoods lived at Dashwood House, West Wycombe, and there is a Wickham and a West Wickham in Kent also, not all that far from Godmersham House.
*Strafford is not a name of an Austen Character, but Sir Walter Elliot makes a deprecating remark about the Wentworths not being related to the Strafford family.
So there you are, Erin- you now know what I "know". Perhaps it'll jog someone's memory a bit, and we''ll find out more.:-)
- Fascinating! Helen 12:44:05 5/15/98 (0)
- Don't you wonder what Jane would think if she read this? NFM ValR 22:44:35 5/13/98 (0)
- Interesting May 22:13:38 5/13/98 (1)
- First names Caroline 21:34:24 5/15/98 (0)
- Wow! That's fascinating.So a Wentworth married a Woodhouse?HmmNFM Marsha 21:17:38 5/12/98 (0)
- Wow! Thanks! That was really amazing! (nfm) Lizzy 01:07:35 5/12/98 (0)
- The equivalent of the phone directory? Linden 19:40:51 5/11/98 (0)
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