21 January 2017
Jane Austen's Names: Riddles, Persons, Places by Margaret Doody
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.
Jane Austen's Names is a book I didn't even know I needed until I saw it on the shelf at Prairie Lights. Come to mama, Jane Austen literary criticism nerd book.
I ❤❤ this book a lot - the minutiae of place names and personal names and etymology and how that commented on Austen's characterizations was so great. She gets in a little dig at naming conventions in historical romance novels (which I totally get - sometimes those names are buh-nanas). Recommended for Austen fans and people super-into English history. It's not quite perfect - there's a huge late digression during a discussion of place names in Mansfield Park which has an interesting premise but it feels much longer that discussion of the other novels so feels out of place (I could be biased, MP is not my favorite Austen novel). (And a strange statement about Erotic love in the Conclusion that seems to come out of nowhere....)
Finished book 1 of #24in48readathon! (Whee, academic writing makes for slow reading - BUT it was a good pick for Readathon since I was making time for long stretches of reading, which is what this book needed.)
Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book OF COURSE.