Sunday, May 29, 2011
Jane Austen's secret nod
Both Mary Wollstonecraft and Jane Austen were famously, boringly, repetitive with the first names of characters in their novels. I think I have discovered a clue.
(I'm not even going to start on her choices for the men and boys.) Now, some of these pairs indicate relationships within the novel -- mother-daughter, aunt-niece, and so on -- but others smack either of laziness or lack of imagination, take your pick. Nothing new here: scholars have criticised, and fans have complained, for generations.
Who is the most contentious heroine in the Jane Austen canon? Who polarises readers' opinion the most? Who is morally certain, and yet modest withal? Who will not budge from her sense of what is right? Who has no hope of a grand marriage, no money to call her own? Call her intransigent, call her honest. Call her...Fanny Price. Fanny, nickname for Frances -- as in Frances Blood, Mary's dearest friend, her first deep and life-shaping love. Price -- as in Richard Price, Mary's father-figure, whom she called "a member of the community whose talents and modest virtues place him high in the scale of moral excellence". Could Jane Austen's choice of the name Fanny Price be a coded reference to two of the most formative people in Mary Wollstonecraft's life? Drumroll: conspiracy music! (Even better -- Fanny's younger brother is named Richard Price.)
Image based on one drawn by Jane Austen's sister Cassandra [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons