Sunday, June 3, 2012

Terms of Endearment?

Last  summer I downloaded a library book onto my Nook .  I did so because it  advertised its author as knowing "all things Austen."  Since I did my Master's Thesis on Austen, and I have reread her novels frequently, I thought it might be fun to see how someone imagined Elizabeth and Darcy after their nuptials.  To my chagrin, I found a sloppily written treacly story which, among its many faults, had Darcy's presumed first name, Fitzwilliam, bandied about.  It is true that "Fitzwilliam Darcy" is how he signed his letter to Elizabeth, and, in one other page in the novel, a disagreeable gossip said, "Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, I knew him as a lad..." Other than that, he was always Darcy or Mr. Darcy.

In my Goodreads review of this novel, I pointed out that in Jane Austen's time, men were not addressed by their first names, often even by their wives.  I also said that we don't know Darcy's first name.  Well, that got a storm of criticism.  Citing the above two examples, readers questioned  my credentials as a scholar and one, who said he'd never read  Pride and Prejudice, told me to "do my homework" before writing a review. I reread the Chapman edition of P&P, and I still maintain that Darcy's first name was not "Fitzwilliam."  Even if it had been, Elizabeth wouldn't have been "Fitzing" all over the place.  In fact, we don't know any of the male characters' first names,, except for the execrable Wickham.

What is noteworthy about this is that readers--and Jane Austen wannabe writers--are blithely unaware of the differences in address forms between cultures. Those differences from modern American society are  faithfully recorded by the real Jane Austen.  You can't understand or describe a society without considering address forms, such as firstnaming, use of titles, and use of terms of endearment.   Actually, you can't really understand Austen without noting those differences.

Darcy is called  Darcy or Mr. Darcy throughout P&P.  Indeed, no male is addressed by his first name in Austen's novels, and, I daresay, most 18th and 19th century ones.  (Now there's a master's thesis waiting to be written.)  Only women are referred to by their first names.   The reason is simple.  To firstname somebody used to imply intimacy.  If you're intimate with somebody, you are supposedly equal to them.  To use last names only, or Title+Last Names, indicates that the one who is addressed has more status.  Often, this is a fiction, as when two members of the Gentry call each  other by last names alone.  In Austen's world, women were considered weaker than males, so they got firstnamed.  Men had to be given respect at all times, so their first names were rarely, if ever,  used.  Servants might be first-named, of course.

Oho! You disagree.  That is only in the novel.  Yes, but a novel had to be based upon actual custom to be believable.  There is no reason to doubt that in Jane Austen's world, wives referred to husbands as [Mr.+Surname.],  as in "Mr. Bennett."  Whether a wife would use her husband's  first name in private intimate circumstances, I don't know because Jane Austen never describes such scenes. However, when Elizabeth and Darcy are talking about falling in love with each other, Elizabeth consistently addresses him as Darcy.  Nowhere does she or anyone else call him Fitzwilliam. Even the loathsome Wickham is called "Mr. Wickham,"  Darcy, in his famous letter, consistently refers to him that way.  Of course, in the same letter, Darcy also calls him "George Wickham."  I'm not much for trivia, and it was a hasty rereading, but I do believe this is the only first name referenced for a male character in this novel. Oh, there is mention of Sir William Somebody, but the Sir trumps the first naming.  Novels and plays are fertile sources for many sociolinguistic concerns.

How about the two instances of "Fitzwilliam Darcy"?  Why do I think that they were not examples of Darcy's Christian name?  Look at where they occur.  One, as a signature; the other from a female gossip.

Why would Darcy sign his name as "Fitzwilliam Darcy," if that was not his first name?  In modern America, that would always be taken as a first + last name. However, among the 19th century British gentry, it wasn't necessarily so.   Darcy came from the gentry.  His mother, a Fitzwilliam,  also did.  He was privileged to be both a Fitzwilliam and a Darcy.   Since first names were never used as address forms for men of Darcy's standing, it is highly improbable that he would sign a letter with  his first and last names and no title.  That would mean that he was of no higher standing than was Elizabeth Bennett. 

Recall, that in this letter, which opens with his addressing  Elizabeth as "Madam," he refers to the "causes of repugnance" which led him to oppose Mr. Bingley's marrying Jane (Elizabeth's  sister).  He says  that Mrs. Bennett's family was "objectionable," and that the younger Bennett sisters, indeed, Mr. Bennett himself, behaved with "total want of propriety." He also refers to Mr. Bingley's love for Jane Bennett as "the certain evils of such a choice."  (P&P, R.W. Chapman, Ed. vol II, p. 198). 

I believe, he used both his mother's family name, Fitzwilliam, and his own, Darcy, to strengthen his argument that he was not to be blamed for his behavior.  He could only sign such a letter in the most formal and distancing manner. No "Mr." Just the surnames of his parents. Recall that "Mr." was used intimately as an  overt address form. That is, "Mr. Bennett" is receiving respect by his wife's use of the title, but also, she has the right to address him as such.  Darcy isn't giving Elizabeth such a right. He deprecates her family.  It is highly unlikely that he would then provide a first name for her to use.   In fact,  she says  "his style was not penitent, but haughty. It was all pride and insolence."(ibid, p. 204)

As for the gossipy lady calling him "Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy," she, too, wanted to be noted as belonging to the gentry.  She knew Darcy and that he was also a Fitzwilliam.  In other words, she was hip to the in crowd. Again,  I don't think this is proof that Darcy's first name was Fitzwilliam.  Undoubtedly, his second or third name was that of his mother's family and he was thus entitled to sign his name with both surnames.  That also emphasized the higher worth of his family over the Bennett's.

So, you don't give a damn about 19th century manners?  You don't have to, but you should be aware of how societies order themselves.   In every society, there are strict rules for addressing others.  This is part of what Erving Goffman termed the "self-regulation" of societies by their rules for social interaction. 

When those rules change, it is because society itself has changed.  It has taken me a long time to get used to having young strangers call me "Elaine."  It jars me.  I was raised to use Mr.,Miss, or Mrs. to anyone a generation older than myself.  In my high school, all the male students were called by their last names, and the females, by "Miss" plus last name. How things have changed.  Even if it is offensive, older people have to  consent  to being firstnamed or they're considered snobby, even rude.  What has happened in the past half century to cause such change in  everyday social interaction?

Why does everyone--or almost everyone--address even strangers by their first names?   If total strangers are called by their first names,  how do we indicate friendship?  Indeed, whom do we call "friend?"  How many "best friends" do you have?  Who is addressed by using titles?  Physicians? Teachers? Lawyers?  Old men? The Duke of York?

Why do we address married women as "Mrs." but unmarried ones as "Miss," or "Ms."? There is no address form for males that indicate whether they're married or not.  Why do we still make  that distinction for females?  In Texas, I am called "Miss Elaine." That address form is common in much of the South. My sense is that it is used for old ladies, not young ones.  Still, it seems more respectful to me than being called "Elaine." 

I am entitled to be addressed as "Dr. + Last Name," but if I ask people to do that, I am either ignored or accused of snootiness.  Interestingly, men in their fifties and sixties are most likely to call me, "Mrs."  I object to that title. It's sexist, but if I tell the offender not to call me "Mrs.," I get negative reactions. Even the salesman who sold me my RV has insisted on calling me "Mrs. Chaika" whenever he sees me.  I try to ignore it, but it's jarring.  Why does such an apparently trivial matter cause an emotional response? Obviously, because address forms aren't really trivial.

NOTE: You don't have to call me "Dr,"  In fact, please do not.





3 comments:

William_B said...

Just found your blog - brilliant!

For reference to this topic, I went to an English 'Public' (ie private, fee-paying) school in the 1960s, and everyone was addressed by their surnames. I called my friends by their surnames. It even went so far that brothers were called 'Smith One and Smith Two' rather than use their first names (I am not joking here! I had a brother in school, and I know.) It took years of the 1970s to adapt to calling John Smith 'John' and not 'Smith' or 'Smithy' or 'Bog-hair' or whatever. Nicknames were fine, especially if slanderous and prejudiced, first names were for mothers to use. It was something of a shock when I went to the US in 1982 to say 'Hello, I am William B' and get the response 'Hi, Bill' from complete strangers. I was a newly minted Dr too. In the UK it would still have been 'Hi, Dr. B.'. Now it is different, and I only get Dr, B. from my students, and only then until they know me.

It would be interesting to get a comment on this from India, and from China. I know from (slight) experience that standards of formality and intimacy differ substantially there.

smartoldlady said...

Guaranteed, different cultures, different address forms. Address forms reflect social stratification. I the US, which has undergone, and is undergoing, a great deal of change in social divisions, not surprisingly, older address forms have been in flux for the past generation or more. Nowadays, using first names without titles has become the norm, even when the person being addressed is more than a generation older than the person addressing them. Also, age no longer protects one from being firstnamed by any twit. It amazes me how many clerks call me "Elaine," as soon as they can ascertain my first name, usually by looking at my credit card. Except for MD's, even people entitled to be called "Dr." may find themselves firstnamed instead.

One interesting solution is the Southern and African American custom of addessing white haired old ladies as 'Miss+First Name.' So, when we're in Texas in the winter, I become "Miss Elaine" In New England, the only people who address me this way are African Americans.

As for males being referred to by last name only, when I went to high school, males were called only by their last names. Furthermore, they had to sign their papers only with their surnames. Females' last names were preceded by "Miss," and we signed our names on papers with a dash plus our last names, so I was "-Ostrach" for 4 years.

White rice and tofu said...

In high school I went to an all male Catholic place. This was in the 1980's, and even then, I don't remember ever hearing my first name spoken. It is still that way on many sports teams in the US.
I always have felt uncomfortable calling my age or academic elders by their first names. Even the easy going way young school children call the instructor "Ms. Sara..." makes me uneasy. Rank and structure seem to make moderate sense to me. I would never correct a child for calling me "Mark" though, as it is just not my place. Or is it? I don't know, but life is so much fun it's easy to just not care.