Tag Archives: The Duchess

The Duchess, Part II

I’ve seen The Duchess, and it is an amazing movie. Go see it!

I saw it with a friend who wasn’t very familiar with the story nor with English history and culture in the late 1700s. It was hard for her to reconcile today’s concepts of feminism and civil rights with Regency England. She also thinks Ralph Fiennes is ugly. Not just unattractive, mind you, but ugly. Even with the wig and tummy padding, I disagreed.

The movie didn’t delve into the psyche of William Cavendish, the fifth Duke of Devonshire. After seeing the movie and Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal, I went back to the beginning of the book to find out more about the duke.

Amazingly, he was orphaned at a young age. Sound familiar? His mother died when he was about six, and his father died when he was 16.  Upon his father’s premature death, he was became the duke and gained control over vast land holdings throughout Derby and in Ireland. From his childhood, he became accustomed to his word being unquestioned and obeyed.

The Duke was considered highly intelligent–he was an expert on Shakespeare–but he was sullen and hardly spoke a word. He was unemotional and unwavering. He was seen as one of the most eligible bachelors in all of England, but because of his holdings and influence and not because of his charm and personality.

Although there are some general parallels to Mr. Darcy’s personality, the duke’s personality was quite diffent than our fictional Darcy. By many accounts, the duke’s personality didn’t get any warmer over time or intimacy. He was literally unable to express his emotions.

I don’t think Darcy’s character was inspired by the Duke of Devonshire. Irregardless, I find the continued parallels between this true story and the fictional Pride and Prejudice to be fascinatingly similar.

The Duchess of Devonshire

I am reading The Duchess right now, about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. (I can’t wait for the movie!) Although the book is not directly related to Pride and Prejudice, it is still fascinating to see the parallels between the Duchess’ life and Jane Austen’s writing.

Lady Georgiana Spencer (the great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales) married influential William Cavendish, the fifth duke of Devonshire, in 1774. She immediately became the toast of London, providing constant fodder for high society gossip and tabloid press. 

The Cavendish family home, Chatsworth, was the most prominent home in all of Derbyshire. Indeed, our fictional Elizabeth Bennet visits Chatsworth during her tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners. Jane Austen may have even borrowed the Duchess’ first name for Darcy’s sister.

Stephen Derry suggests the similarities between the Darcys and the Cavendishes were also political. “Fitzwilliam Darcy,” he writes, “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,’ like the Bennets and Jane Austen’s family.”

Even the name Pemberley may have been derived from the Duchess, Derry writes. “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.’)”