Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places, by Margaret Doody – A Review

Jane Austens Names Margaret Doody 2015 x 200From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:

Historical allusions abound in [Austen’s] fiction–they are part of the consciousness of each novel in itself. Combinations of place names and personal names point both back and forward. Or rather, references and images are more than just allusions; we find we are within history all the time. The writing is dense with allusion, thick with multiple sensations and meanings.” (389)

If I could, I’d drop everything to go study at the feet of the great Canadian, Margaret Doody, professor of literature at Notre Dame University. In her latest book, Jane Austen’s Names, Doody offers readers insights into the history that saturates each of Austen’s novels. In this way, the text resembles Janine Barchas’s excellent work Matters of Fact in Jane Austen (2013); but Doody’s work is both more minute and more expansive than Barchas’s in how it incorporates etymological origins for names and places, both real and imaginary, and cross references many of the historical events and literary texts that influenced Austen. Of course, when Doody adds her own analysis of Austen’s novels, the effect is bewilderingly fascinating, like the publication of any gifted professor’s notes after a long tenure of research and teaching.

In Part I of the book, Doody introduces the fine line that Austen walks between allegory and allusion on the one hand and restraint and originality on the other. Doody reminds us that Austen’s Britain is a complex etymological canvas thanks to the presence of Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Normans, and others; she further reasons that “No set or string of events is ever entirely over. Austen’s England is a place of strains and tension, of disharmonies potentially revived or momentarily perhaps forgotten.” (14). To lay the foundation for the other two parts of the book, Doody gives a quick overview of major topics of British history, such as the Norman Conquest, the Tory/Whig divide, and the Tudor/Stuart tug of war for the throne. These topics are important, because they underlay Austen’s word choices, thereby exposing her political and religious sympathies.

Part II of the book is dedicated to examining the names Austen gives to her characters, along with titles and rank. Doody notes the way in which Austen’s name choices signal class, nationality, politics, and religion, sometimes all at once. The surname “Darcy,” for example, is of Norman origin, and “A Norman name is likely to indicate influence, power, inherited status, or high rank.” (72) But “Darcy” can also be an allusion to Thomas Lord Darcy who rebelled against Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Catholic monasteries during the English Reformation. So while “Darcy” points to wealth and power, it also predicts that fierce loyalty that characterizes the hero of Pride and Prejudice—a subtle homage to the real, pro-Catholic hero who also bore the name. (81)

The section on personal names in Mansfield Park I especially loved, specifically the way Doody highlights the Scottishness of the Crawfords. She writes, “Henry Crawford, the hidden Scot, is…a kind of displaced person trying to fit in…Henry’s situation fosters uncertain loyalties, uncertainties even in impersonation of Englishness.” (131) Doody blames “Scottish bluntness” for Mary Crawford’s forthright articulation of her opinions “about human arrangements and behavior.” (136) In this way, what many have viewed as Mary’s metropolitan cynicism now is understood as her national character! In this way, knowing the origin of surnames helps readers appreciate nuances to Austen’s characterization. The Crawfords have a national “otherness” that explains if not excuses their failures to perfectly follow the rules represented, but not upheld, by the Bertrams of Mansfield Park.

No doubt, readers will enjoy Doody’s comments on first name patterns. “Catherines,” she notes are clueless (120), while “Charlottes” are good-natured and calculating (208); “Annes” are pushed around while “Elizabeths” are assertive (120-121); “Margarets” are pushy, too, and self-interested, while “Marys” are “cold, selfish, and irritating females” (108).  Doody comments on male names, also: John, for example, “has a core of inconsiderate self-centeredness.” (107) The point being that sometimes all it takes to predict a character’s success or failure is to know Austen’s personal bias with a name.

In Part III of the book, Doody turns her attention to the real counties and cities referenced in the novels, along with the names given to fictional estates, villages, and towns. She starts with an etymology lesson, and then moves through each of the novels illuminating their settings—like how his Derbyshire upbringing predicts Mr. Darcy’s “cloudy motives” (303), or how living in Kent explains Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s dismissal of primogeniture (266). One of Doody’s more brilliant connections was for Sense and Sensibility: “Sussex at the beginning of the nineteenth century was suffering from agricultural depression and popular resentment at low wages (conditions that John and Fanny Dashwood will certainly do nothing to ameliorate).” (265) Juxtaposing the real depression of a place with the prodigal spending of the fictional Dashwoods suddenly heightens Austen’s social commentary. Sussex suddenly becomes as relevant a politicalized setting as Ferguson, Missouri would be for a contemporary novel.

In writing the above, I have barely commented on the virtues of this text. Doody has an astounding knowledge of British history, etymology of English words, and Austen’s works. She dives into each novel deeply, happy to blur the lines between historical figures with fictional characters. She speculates about plots in original ways and challenges standard readings of characters, as when she calls Mr. Parker from Sanditon, whom I love, an antihero. (199) And her tone is everywhere scholarly, but equally personal—as when she so eloquently writes, “Sir Walter’s fascination with his meager personal entry in the big book is contemptible but not without pathos. We all yearn to be registered in the Book of Life.” (391) True, this book may not appeal to everyone, but readers interested in specific novels or characters can easily choose to read the sections on them without getting lost in other details. Altogether, the work is an invaluable reference tool for Austen scholars, and should be essential reading for all diehard aficionados. Thus, I award this book the brightest five Regency Stars possible.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places, by Margaret Doody
University of Chicago Press (2015)
Hardcover & eBook (440) pages
ISBN: 978-0226157832

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Additional Reviews

Cover image courtesy of University of Chicago Press © 2015; text Br. Paul Byrd, OP © 2015, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen, edited by Gabrielle Malcolm – A Review

Fan Phenomena Jane Austen 2015 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen fans cannot be filed neatly into a single category any more than Austen’s works can be limited to one literary genre. How might an editor attempt to do justice to the multiplicity of Janeite fandom in a slim volume of essays and interviews? This question was uppermost in my mind as I began reading Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen. The Fan Phenomena series website explains that the goal of the series is to “look at particular examples of ‘fan culture’ and approach the subject in an accessible manner aimed at both fans and those interested in the cultural and social aspects of these fascinating–and often unusual–‘universes’.” 

What is the joy of Jane? What is it about her work that keeps readers, and viewers, coming back for more? Is it the Darcy effect? Is it the irony, the wit, the romance? Or is it a combination of all these factors? Many critics and authors have compiled works to analyse this vast and still growing phenomenon of fandom…This collection offers material about the fans, for the fans, by the fans, and offers a combination of the popular and the academic. (5)

Editor Gabrielle Malcom’s introduction provides a clear description of the purpose and scope of the collection. She acknowledges the differences between mainstream fan culture and the academic treatment of Austen. After setting Austen’s work in its historical context with a few concise and insightful paragraphs, she provides brief descriptions of the essays and interviews that follow. While Fan Phenomena: Jane Austen has the look of an academic journal, its design and use of color photographs creates a visually appealing experience for the reader, with the exception of the excessively small font size used for the text of the essays. Although I suspect that the text format is dictated by the Fan Phenomena series as a whole and not unique to this volume, the cramped appearance distracted me from the content at times. I found the format used in the Fan Appreciation interviews to be much more appropriate and reader-friendly. Continue reading

A School for Brides: A Story of Maidens, Mystery, and Matrimony, by Patrice Kindl – A Review

A School for Brides, by Patrice Kindl 2015From the desk of Katie Patchell:

In 2012, author Patrice Kindl published her Regency debut, Keeping the Castle. Heralded by critics as part Jane Austen and part I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith’s classic), Keeping the Castle is set in the memorable town of Lesser Hoo, Yorkshire, and filled with quirky (and mostly loveable) characters, witty and very quote-worthy lines, and one very spectacular heroine. Really, what’s not to love? Sadly, a return to the characters and town discovered in Keeping the Castle seemed only possible through a re-read rather than a sequel…until this month, that is! In A School for Brides, Patrice Kindl’s companion novel to Keeping the Castle, readers return to the small village of Lesser Hoo to see the latest comedic mayhem caused by old and new residents alike.

“Mark my words. If something drastic is not done, none of us shall ever marry. We are doomed to die old maids, banished to the seat farthest from the fire, served with the toughest cuts of meat and the weakest cups of tea, objects of pity and scorn to all we meet. That shall be our fate, so long as we remain in Lesser Hoo.” (A School For Brides, p. 1)

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Giveaway Winner Announced for The Lure of the Moonflower

The Lure of the Moonflower, by Lauren Willig (2015)It’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway of one paperback copy of The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig. The lucky winner drawn at random is:

Lilyane Soltz, who left a comment on August 5, 2015.

Congratulations Lilyane! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by August 19, 2015 or you will forfeit your prize! Mail shipment to US addresses only.

Thanks to all who left comments, and to author Lauren Willig for the excerpt and her publisher NAL (Penguin Random House) for the giveaway.

Cover image courtesy of NAL © 2015, excerpt Lauren Willig © 2015, Austenprose.com

Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow – A Review

Miss Georgiana of Pemberley, by Shannon Winslow (2015)From the desk of Lisa Galek:

Georgiana Darcy might be a minor character in Pride and Prejudice, but we know that she’ll go on to play a very important role in the lives of the future Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. As a resident of Pemberley, Georgiana’s daily life would have been intimately connected with the lives of her brother and sister-in-law. How would she have learned from them? How would she grow into a woman? Would she ever find her own true love? In Shannon Winslow’s book, Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley, all those questions are answered and more.

Our story begins about a year after the events of Pride and Prejudice. Georgiana Darcy is about to turn eighteen years old and lives at Pemberley with her brother and new sister-in-law. She is profoundly happy there and never has to worry about being married off to some odious relative for financial reasons. Of course, that doesn’t mean Georgiana doesn’t want to get married… if the right man comes along. Right now, she has her heart set on her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is starting to look less like a guardian and more like husband material every day. Continue reading

Pride and Proposals: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Victoria Kincaid – A Review

Pride and Proposals by Victoria Kincaid 2015 x 200From the desk of Monica Perry:

Readers of Pride and Prejudice retellings know that sometimes it’s a great thing when Mr. Darcy’s proposal to Elizabeth Bennet gets interrupted. It isn’t his best moment and perhaps if it’s averted, the universe will realign in his favor, giving him time to learn of her disdain for him and correct his behavior before she hands him his heart on a stick. In Victoria Kincaid’s Pride and Proposals, Darcy doesn’t get the chance to propose, yet he still has his heart broken, as he arrives at the parsonage just in time to learn his lady love just got engaged to his best friend and cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. What can he do? Richard is kind and honorable, and they seem to be very happy. If Darcy can’t have her, she could do far worse in a spouse. Can he risk embarrassing himself and harming his relationship with Richard by admitting his feelings? Does she truly love Richard or is she marrying for convenience? Colonel Fitzwilliam is such a beloved personage in Pride and Prejudice stories; in a world without Mr. Darcy, he and Elizabeth could be quite well- suited for each other. I wanted to know if Ms. Kincaid could possibly get Darcy and Elizabeth to a happy ending without breaking Richard’s heart in the process. Continue reading