Fanny Price’s name used to be quite common. According to Grace Hamlin in her book The Penguin Classic Baby Name Book, the name “was a favorite name among the Victorians, and appears often enough in literature to suggest that it was a neutral, nondescript name for a well-educated woman.” 1 Jane Austen was related to several people with the name Fanny (and also Francis). It is a fairly common name in literature, and quite a few historical people have borne the name. For my own amusement (and inspired by this list on Enchanted Serenity), I have collected some information about various of these people here. Because there are so many of them, I have divided them into separate posts. So, without further ado, here is part I of my Fanny Hall of Fame:
Relations of Jane Austen with the name Fanny
Fanny Palmer (1790-1814) became the first wife of Jane Austen’s brother Charles. They became engaged when Fanny was only sixteen. She had no fortune. They met in Burmuda where Fanny’s family lived. They were married there in May 1807. Fanny did not meet any of her husband’s family until four years after they were married. She died when she was only twenty-four, after giving birth to her fourth child, Elizabeth, who died soon after.
(Frances Palmer on thePeerage.com.)
Fanny Catherine Austen (1793-1882) was the eldest child of Jane Austen’s brother Edward. (Edward Austen’s mother-in-law was Fanny Fowler Bridges.) Her name was changed to Fanny Knight when her father inherited Godmersham. When she married she became Lady Knatchbull. She helped to raise her younger brothers and sisters when her mother died, when she was fifteen. Fanny was one of Jane Austen’s favorite nieces. In a letter to Cassandra on October 7, 1808 Jane Austen describes Fanny as “almost another Sister”. Some pieces of Jane Austen’s Juvenilia were dedicated to Fanny, “to prevent [her] feeling … the want of [Jane Austen’s] personal instructions”. In 1819, nearly two years after Jane Austen’s death, James Austen’s daughter Caroline said of Fanny and her sister Marianne Knight, “Fanny everybody says it is impossible to help loving and I beleive every body is right.” 2 In the 2008 film Miss Austen Regrets, Fanny Austen is portrayed by Imogen Poots. Beth Winslet portrays her in the 2002 dramatized documentary The Real Jane Austen.
(Fanny Knight on thePeerage.com and on Pemberley.com —see under Jane Austen’s brother Edward. The letters from Jane Austen to F. K., Juvenilia of Jane Austen’s dedicated to F. K., letter in which Jane Austen describes F. K. as “almost another sister”.)
Frances Palmer Austen (1812-1882) was the third daughter of Charles and Fanny Austen (see Fanny Palmer above). She was their first child to be born in England.
(Fanny Austen on thePeerage.com.)
Fanny C. Lefroy (1820-1885) was the daughter of Jane Austen’s niece Anna Austen. Anna was the daughter of James Austen. She married Benjamin Lefroy in 1814—the same year in which Jane Austen published Mansfield Park. (Anna was Jane Austen’s first niece, and was, along with Fanny Knight, one of her favorite nieces. Jane Austen dedicated some of her Juvenilia to Anna, and, later, wrote her advice on the novel that Anna was writing.) Fanny Lefroy was not born until a few years after Jane Austen’s death.
(Fanny Lefroy on thePeerage.com, a “Mock Panegyric” Jane Austen wrote on F. L.’s mother Anna, and Jane Austen’s advice on novel-writing to Anna.)
Frances Sophia Austen (1821-1904) was one of the daughters of Jane Austen’s brother Sir Francis Austen. She was not born until several years after Jane Austen’s death. After her father’s death in 1865, she destroyed letters Jane Austen had written and that her father had carefully kept all through the years since her death.3 Frances’s sister Catherine was said to be angered by this action. When Catherine’s husband, John Hubback, went insane, Catherine supported her family by writing novels, including the first completion of The Watsons.4 Deirdre Le Faye records, in her book Jane Austen: A Family Record, after Jane Austen’s death, “Cassandra paid long visits to Portsdown Lodge, when she and Frank and Martha would reminisce about Jane and read her novels aloud to Frank’s three daughters then at home — Cassy Eliza, Catherine Anne and Fanny Sophia. So familiar did the girls become with the texts that in later years Catherine and Fanny could utter ‘some question or answer, expressed quite naturally in terms of the novels; sometimes even a conversation would be carried on entirely appropriate to the matter under discussion, but the actual phrases were “Aunt Jane’s”.’” 5
Françoise Bigeon (?-?) was not a relation of Jane Austen’s, but she was a maid to Eliza de Feullides (Jane Austen’s cousin, and later the wife of Jane Austen’s brother Henry), helping to care for Eliza’s son Hastings until his death. Madame Bigeon and her daughter fled France during the Reign of Terror. After Eliza’s death, Mme Bigeon continued to work for Henry Austen. When Jane Austen died, she left everything she had to her sister Cassandra, except for two legecies of £50 — one to her brother Henry, and the other to Madame Bigeon. She is played by actress Sylvie Herbert in the 2008 film Miss Austen Regrets.
1 Grace Hamlin, The Penguin Classic Baby Name Book: 2,000 Names from the World’s Great Literature (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books Ltd., 2001), p. 312.
2 Deirdre Le Faye, Jane Austen: A Family Record (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 2nd. edition), p. 262.
3 Information from Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), Ch. 25, p. 281.
4 Ibid., Notes, p. 322.
5 Le Faye, p. 268.
The first picture is a painting of F. Palmer Austen. The screencaps of F. Austen Knight and F. Bigeon are from the film Miss Austen Regrets (2008).