Most readers of JAFF know that many writers, including Summer and me, use Richard as Colonel Fitzwilliam’s first name. Jane Austen did not record a name for him in Pride and Prejudice, allowing writers to be free to use whatever name they wish. Even if she didn’t record a name, she may have had one in mind.
Whatever name she had in mind, it wasn’t Richard.
Colonel Fitzwilliam is one of the few characters in Pride and Prejudice who is presented almost completely positively. There are others, such as the Gardiners and Mrs. Reynolds.
He is introduced as following:
Colonel Fitzwilliam, who led the way, was about thirty, not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman.
And later, we read:
Colonel Fitzwilliam … talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertained in that room before.
The only negative thing that can be said about him is that he admits to Elizabeth that he must marry someone with money. This was so normal at the time, that I don’t think it was intended as a criticism. Many readers love Colonel Fitzwilliam and object if he isn’t given perfect happiness.
Having presented such a positive character, l would like to look at the name Richard in Jane Austen’s work. In Pride and Prejudice, Richard is mentioned in one sentence, spoken by Lydia: “…my uncle Phillips talks of turning away Richard; and if he does, Colonel Forster will hire him.“ This occurs when Lydia interrupts Mr. Collins reading Fordyce’s Sermons.
With one line, we can hardly understand the character of Richard. Was he turned away because the Phillips were trying to save money or for some flaw as a servant? There is no hint the Phillips had financial difficulties. On the other hand, Colonel Forster would probably want to hire Richard only if he was a competent servant. Jane Austen did not spend many words on servants, so we will never know if she had an opinion about this Richard. I interpret the passage to indicate that Lydia was interrupting Mr. Collins with something entirely irrelevant. Stretching a bit, I will claim that Richard is irrelevant.
There are a few minor characters named Richard in Jane Austen’s works. Fanny Price has a younger brother named Richard, for example. But there are two mentions of Richard that stand out. In Persuasion, Richard Musgrove is mentioned in a memorable section.
The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross, two years before.
He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him “poor Richard,” been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead.
Alone this means little but coupling it with the following excerpt from the beginning of Northanger Abbey, I claim that Jane Austen had a prejudice against the name Richard.
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard—and he had never been handsome.
Jane Austen apparently didn’t like Richard. Any Richard.
I can guess Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father’s first name. It was probably George. It was likely that Wickham was named after him and Georgiana’s name would then be a combination of her parents’ names.
Is there any first name that you think Jane Austen would have had in mind for Colonel Fitzwilliam? Why do you think so? I refuse to consider Colonel Fitzwilliam Fitzwilliam as a possibility.