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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Why did Jane Austen have a curious dislike for the name Richard?

An Announcement for Darcyholic Diversions Loyal Readers...

First of all, I would like to announce that Glynis is the winner of the notecards from last week’s exclusive post by Christina Boyd, editor of The Darcy Monologues.  If you haven’t yet read it, it follows this one.  

It is now my pleasure to welcome Jane Odiwe to Darcyholic Diversions today.  I seem to be on my own personal exploration of Northanger Abbey of late so I was very happy to get a copy of Jane’s recently published Searching for Mr TilneyA novel inspired by Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  The intrigue of her story and the inside look into Jane Austen’s sense of humor and business dealings are a rare treat.  Jane will be giving away a paperback copy of her novel to an international commenter here at Darcyholic Diversions so be sure to comment!  And extra entries will be given for liking either Jane or my own Facebook pages, reposting this post link, joining the email list here at Darcyholic Diversions, or tweeting a link to this point..... BTCole)  
Why did Jane Austen have a curious dislike for the name Richard?

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.
Northanger Abbey

At the beginning of Northanger Abbey Jane Austen tells us that Catherine Morland’s father is a very respectable man, though his name was Richard. I’m sure I’m not the first person to wonder why she included this information that doesn’t seem to add anything to our knowledge or insight of his character, but strongly implies, nevertheless, that anyone with the name Richard could not be respectable.
Jane Austen started writing her third novel with the working title of Susan during 1798 and when she finished it about a year later her brother Henry offered it to Crosby, a London publisher who paid £10 for the copyright. Early publication was promised and even advertised but no book appeared.

In the prologue of Searching for Mr Tilney I describe what happened next through the experiences of my heroine Caroline.

Chelsea London
July 2017

I found it in an old bookshop in Cambridge a few weeks ago, on a tour of the city. It was a hot day, and to step inside the cool book-lined walls of the crooked Tudor building was like finding heaven on earth. I’d become ever more obsessed as the years went by in my quest to find even the smallest detail of tangible proof for all that had happened to me as a young girl, and I’d scoured every relevant book I could find for any clues to support the insight I’d gained. Though the overwhelming guilt that I’d done nothing about my discovery had softened over the years, I could never decide if I’d been right to keep its knowledge hidden, and even now I felt it might have been wrong to collude in guarding such secrets.
It was midsummer’s day when I found the rare copy of Northanger Abbey that contained a photo of the portrait, another precious book to add to my collection. I smiled when I saw the picture, and the familiar skipping of my heartbeat began, as the memories came flooding back. The girl with the green parasol gazed back at me with her enigmatic smile, seeming to acknowledge me as the keeper of her secrets, though perhaps I was being fanciful. The emotions of youthful longing with all its quivering expectation, came rushing to the surface like blood bruising pale skin, as I remembered every vivid picture, every haunted image. Yet, alongside the recollections of ghosts from the past and the excitement of being young with all its magical memories, it was impossible not to recall my uncertain fears and those other feelings that still surfaced from time to time, of guilt and shame.
I’ve never been one for reading the preface of a book, and I don’t quite know why I did on that day, though I knew I wanted to linger, soaking up the atmosphere of the bookshop with its damp odours of ancient paper, leather, and dust. I turned the pages of the book, wondering how many people had held it in their hands and read the words like a spellbinding charm, bringing pleasure in every line.
There was the usual biographical notice written after Jane Austen’s death by her brother Henry, followed by the history of the publication. And then there was a letter from Jane Austen written in 1809 that I hadn’t seen replicated before. Written to her publisher Richard Crosby who’d bought the manuscript in 1803 for ten pounds and not published it, Jane was accusing him of having lost what was later to become Northanger Abbey. The tone of the letter was curt, cross and coldly polite, but she was willing to supply him with another copy. There was a reply printed further down the page from Crosby who’d suggested, rather meanly, that if publication were sought elsewhere, he’d take proceedings to stop it, demanding she pay back the money he’d given her. This was all very interesting, but Jane’s letter was a mystery in more ways than one.
She’d signed it at the bottom: I am Gentlemen, &c. &c. M. A. D., with an address for the post office at Southampton for a Mrs Ashton Dennis. I laughed out loud at that, which made one or two people turn round to stare at me for disturbing the church-like sanctity of the place, but I could see what she’d done. The initials of her pseudonym had been written so she could express just how she was feeling about the man who’d failed to publish her book. As the successful author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, she must have been feeling very “mad” that her dearest Catherine had been overlooked.
Quite unexpectedly, and with chills to send my spine tingling, another memory surfaced as I read the familiar sounding name again - Mrs Ashton Dennis. It was forty-two years since I’d heard it, almost the same number of years Jane Austen had been when she’d tragically died, but the name was as well known to me as the person who’d hidden behind it. And then I knew, even if I had more questions to be answered than ever before, I’d been gifted the chance to see just what had happened all those years ago, confirming my suspicions that I’d been meant to discover the story lost in time.
I’d never been back to the Bath townhouse where it all began. It felt wrong to be disturbing the past, stirring up the souls of those who’d once lived there, or resurrecting the dreams and visions that still held me, captivated and caught in the layers of time. When I got home it took me a while to find it, the diary I’d kept all those years ago, the memories tumbling from its pages along with the train tickets, theatre programmes, admission for the Assembly Rooms, and a pamphlet for the house on the Royal Crescent, not to mention the menu I’d taken as a souvenir from the Pump Rooms, where such a lot had happened. Going to Bath had been a turning point in my life, the most incredible journey I’d ever made, and able to glance back once more at my youthful self, I couldn’t wait to re-live it all over again.

It’s easy to see why Jane writing as ‘M.A.D./Mrs Ashton Dennis’ was cross with Richard Crosby for making her wait so long, and failing to publish her book. The final insult was threatening to sue her if she tried to publish it elsewhere, giving her no alternative but to buy back her manuscript. I wonder if this is why she couldn’t resist inserting the private joke about the name of Richard not being very respectable … or indeed, handsome!
But, Jane also had the very last laugh regarding this sorry tale. Henry, on Jane’s behalf, bought back the manuscript in 1816, and then had the delight of telling the publisher that the book was by the successful author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. However, even after reclaiming it, Jane seemed to have some doubts about her book, writing to her niece Fanny in March, 1817: ‘Miss Catherine is put upon the shelves for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out.’ Perhaps she was worried it wouldn’t appeal to the audience she’d written it for years earlier and in the advertisement she composed there seemed to be some reservations about how she thought it would be received: ‘The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes.’
Sadly, Jane Austen didn’t live to see Northanger Abbey published. Henry published it posthumously along with Persuasion in late December, 1817. I’m sure we all wish she knew just how much we love her book, 200 years after its publication, and especially how much we adore the irrepressible, witty and charming hero, Mr Tilney.

About the Book: 
Searching for Mr Tilney

What secrets lie at the heart of Jane Austen’s teenage journal?

When Caroline Heath is taken to Bath in 1975, she little expects to find the gothic adventure she craves, let alone discover Jane Austen’s secret teenage journal, or how it’s possible to live in someone else’s body. Yet, she’s soon caught up in a whirlwind of fantastic events - travels through time, a love story or three, and even the odd sinister murder - or so she thinks.
As the past and present entwine, Jane’s journal reveals a coming of age tale, set against the scandalous backdrop of Knole Park in Kent, and the story behind an enigmatic portrait. In Bath, a Georgian townhouse acts as a portal in time, and Caroline finds herself becoming Cassandra Austen, a young woman making her debut in society, torn between family duty and the love of her life. As the riddles unfold, and the lines blur between illusion and reality, will Caroline find the happiness she seeks or will she indulge her wild imagination, threatening her future and a fairytale ending?

Jane Odiwe

Jane Odiwe lives in North London with her husband, children and two cats, but escapes to “Fairyland”, Bath, whenever she can. When she’s not writing she enjoys painting, reading, and music, and loves spending time with her family.
Twitter: @JaneOdiwe

International Giveaway: One paperback copy of Searchng for Mr Tilney


  1. Fantastic. Love the excerpt and I have just been transported back to the Haunted Bookshop in Cambridge where I have spent far too many hours, and at David's of course! Please don't enter me for the giveaway as I am already the proud owner of this special book.

  2. A delightful excerpt! I've been watching the excerpts and reviews of this book very closely as Northanger Abbey is by far my favourite of JA's stories. I'm so excited about this rare JAFFing of the story. Thank you for offering a giveaway and I hope I win, but if not I will be purchasing a copy next time I place an amazon order.

    It's rather paradoxical that, with a few exceptions, the generally accepted JAFF first name of Darcy's cousin the Colonel is Richard, as he is generally portrayed by JAFF auithors as being noble, honourable, and reliable if not particularly good-looking.

  3. Congratulations on the new book, Jane. I hope it's a great success! It certainly sounds intriguing. As you probably know, I'm a fan of stories based on secret Jane Austen journals. :) Also a fan of NA. Imho, the opening pages contains some of the most brilliant and certainly funniest of her writing. I always laugh at the 'though his name was Richard' bit. Thanks for supplying the probable explanation.

    1. Thank you Shannon for your very kind words!

  4. It sounds quite convincing that knowing Jane's often very dry wit she would add that little aside about Richard's because of the treatment from the publishers.
    Jane's book is a real delight. The weaving of fact and fiction is so skilful that Jane has us completely engrossed in a tale of intrigue and mystery within the first few pages. I've visited The Haunted Bookshop many times and love the atmosphere there.

  5. I have read another hypothesis about name. It is related with her "History of England" and in particular to what she wrote about king Richard III.

  6. Fantastic prologue. Congrats on the release!

  7. I bought this last week and I cannot wait to get some time to read it! Can't wait!

  8. Thank you Barb for hosting me, and everyone for all your kind comments! Cinthia, yes, I've read about that theory and I think it's a very possible hypothesis, but whilst researching my book, I couldnt stop thinking about how very cross she was with Richard Crosby, and I thought it might be a plausible reason for adding this little nugget into the book he rejected.

  9. It is a curious phrase to include. Not fond of the name Richard myself.

    Following both on FB and also a subscriber.

  10. Nice to read this.Thank you so much for sharing this.

  11. Well that's a bummer, for all those writers who name our honorable Colonel Fitzwilliam Richard :) Thanks for all the research, it's always nice to know such background details.

    I tweeted (@ Kookblogs) en I already follow Darcyholic Diversions by email.

  12. Great excerpt. :) Lol, and of all the names Richard is the most popular name for Colonel Fitzwilliam in JAFF stories. ;)

  13. Well, I have a brother Richard who is very lovely so Jane Austen wasn't always right, in my opinion! I'm curious to know who first used Richard for Colonel Fitzwilliam and why they chose that particular name.

    1. I didn't know that Richard was being used as Col. F's given name in JAFF when I wrote The Darcys of Pemberley, wherein I called him John. (In fact, I didn't know there was such a thing as JAFF at the time!) More than one person criticized me for getting his name "wrong." Haha!

      But I did have to laugh when I heard about the prejudice against the name Richard, because I had by then (again, unknowingly) given it to the rake in my second book!

    2. Shannon, I have a brother Richard who is wonderful so I can quite understand why anyone would want to use the name for a hero!

  14. A really interesting premise. I will buy it and read it as soon as I have the chance!

  15. I can only think of one other Richard from canon and he's an "off-screen" character so to speak. The Musgrove family from Persuasion had a son named Richard, referred to as Dick, who seems to have been a bit of a bad apple, reading between the lines. Could this be another sideswipe at the publisher? From what I've read of her letters, she certainly had a sly, snarky and overall witty enough sense of humour to do such things.

    We have a very good friend called Richard - a very decent, lovely chap, with a dry, sarcastic sense of humour. I think Jane Austen would have liked him!

    Links to re-postings follow:



    Facebook: have re-posted a link to your post, Barbara, but can't get it to copy over. I'm already friends there with both you and Jane.

    I've even put a link in my JAFF TBR board on Pinterest but again, I can't get the link to copy over.

  16. Yes, he was a bit of a bad lot too, wasn't he, Anji- I'd forgotten about him!

  17. Thank you for a giving us a possible reason why our favourite author dislike the name Richard, Jane. And also for generously giving away a paperback copy of Searching for Mr Tilney.

    Barbara, I like both Jane and your Facebook page. Posted the link to my blog and Facebook page

    1. Thank you Luthien84-I hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it.

  18. Jane Odiwe have you ever considered yourself as being Jane Austen reborn? I do! Your novels have this certain magic about them and I am eager to discover "Mr Tilney" as he is my favourite Austen hero far above Dr Darcy. I prefer his gentleness and understanding of human nature and look forward to reading what you contrive. Irena from Canada

    1. Irena, that's high praise, indeed, and so very lovely of you to say so but no- I've not considered I could be anything like the genius of Jane Austen. I hope you enjoy my novel if you get a chance to read it.

  19. Thank you for sharing. The beginning of the story is intriguing. I find your theory of why she would not like the name Richard quite interesting and plausible.

  20. I am so interested that this is a time travel book. Jane Austen is so clever - another example is with the name Richard. What a witty streak. I am sure that is one reason why her sister destroyed so many letters because the wit would have offended many! Thank you for the giveaway.