Persuasions #11, 1989                                                                                                                                                             Pages 15-16

The Two Georgianas: The Duchess of Devonshire 
and Jane Austen’s Miss Darcy

Cambridge, England

In calling Darcy’s sister “Georgiana,” in Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen selected a name both appropriate and ironic. Fitzwilliam Darcy has been associated with the Whigs, as his names recall those of two prominent Whig noblemen, Robert D’Arcy, fourth Earl of Holdernesse (1718-1788), and William Fitzwilliam, fourth Earl Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), who both held high ministerial office. Donald Greene considered that Darcy’s arrogance might have been “a satire on an aspect of Whiggism most obnoxious to Pittite lories,”1 like the Bennets and Jane Austen’s family.  Darcy’s house, Pemberley, is in Derbyshire, and Jane Austen’s description of its size and location has led it to be identified with Chatsworth.2  Pemberley cannot be a substitute for Chatsworth, as the latter is mentioned under its own name in the novel, and so has an existence in Jane Austen’s fictional world; but Pemberley as a house and estate may have been modelled upon Chatsworth. Close links socially and politically may be inferred between the two places, as Chatsworth is the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, who were Whig grandees; and the most celebrated bearer of the name “Georgiana” in Jane Austen’s lifetime was Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806).3  So there could be no more appropriate name for the daughter of a Whig family living in a great house in Derbyshire; it may be inferred that the Darcy family were honouring their ducal neighbours.  But the name in the novel is borne by a shy, diffident, and embarrassed girl, young, inexperienced, and still ashamed of her involvement with Wickham; she is thus an ironic contrast with the brilliant and accomplished Duchess.  Although she treats Georgiana sympathetically, the Tory Jane Austen may, with sly humour, be deflating Whig pretensions.

The Duchess herself wrote a novel, The Sylph (1779), in which the name “Pemberton” occurs. Fanny Burney may have borrowed this name, as it is also found in her novel Cecilia (1782), which was a major source for the plot of Pride and Prejudice – both are studies in snobbery – and which provided it with its title; Jane Austen’s “Pemberley” may therefore represent a double allusion, to both Cecilia and The Sylph.  It would be appropriate if Miss Darcy’s home ultimately owed its name to her namesake’s imagination.  (Jane Austen may have conflated “Pemberton” with “Beverley,” the surname of the heroine of  Cecilia, to make “Pemberley.”)

Georgiana Darcy may also have been so christened in honour of her father; his name is not given in the novel, but it is likely that he was called George, as that was the Christian name of his godson, Wickham.



1 Donald J.Greene, “Jane Austen and the Peerage,”PMLA, liii (1953), 1026.

2 Marjorie Blount, “Pemberley,” Derbyshire Countryside, xx (1954), 70; Donald J.Greene, “Pemberley Revisited,” Persuasion: Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America, I (1979), 12.

3 Her name was not pronounced euphoniously ‘Georgiana’ but, more vigorously, ‘George-ayna.’ (Iris Leveson Gower. The Face Without a Frown [London: Frederick Muller, 1944], p. 8). Might this also be true of Miss Darcy’s name?

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