Colonel Fitzwilliam: Canon or fanon?
I am using the term “fanon” to refer to both Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) and adaptations, illustrations, etc. The way people imagine Colonel Fiztwilliam seems to be heavily influenced by adaptations and JAFF, more than any other character except perhaps Mary Bennet.
His first name is Richard
Fanon, not canon.
Colonel Fitzwilliam is never named in the novel. I personally like to imagine his first name is “Darcy” because that would be both hilarious and confusing at family gatherings.
The name “Richard” is commonly used in JAFF, though the earliest Jane Austen fan fiction novel, Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton uses “Robert”, so it must have come into use sometime after that. Jane Austen seemed to have a dislike of the name “Richard”, though she does use it fairly frequently in her novels (there are seven characters in her works named “Richard”, all minor).
Colonel Fitzwilliam is physically attractive
Fanon, not canon.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, who led the way, was about thirty, not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman.
According to Dwiggie Lore, 1995 Colonel Fitzwilliam was dubbed “Colonel Hotpants”. Here is a comparison of the character in the 1995 and 2005 adaptations:
It’s hard to tell exactly what Austen meant by using “not handsome” instead of “plain” which seems to be worse. Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey is described as “not quite handsome” whilst Edward Ferrars is described in Sense & Sensibility as “He was not handsome… his person can hardly be called handsome.” Robert Martin is described as “Oh! not handsome—not at all handsome. I thought him very plain at first.”
Either way, there is nothing wrong with a man not being handsome, at least Colonel Fitzwilliam has the manners of a gentleman! Unlike someone we know…
Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy are best buddies
We don’t see much of Colonel Fitzwilliam and Darcy interacting with each other, but we do know that Darcy does not keep his cousin in his full confidence. After all, the Colonel is only guessing that the man that Darcy saved from an imprudent marriage is Bingley:
“I only suspected it to be Bingley from believing him the kind of young man to get into a scrape of that sort“
I suspect Darcy told Colonel Fitzwilliam something when he asked him to be a character reference about Wickham to Elizabeth, but it might have been as simple as, “Wickham is living in Miss Bennet’s neighbourhood, can you answer any questions she might have?”. I personally doubt he told his cousin about the failed proposal because it would be embrassing to talk about. Either way, we aren’t told so it’s up to fan fiction authors to imagine one way or the other.
Colonel Fitzwilliam swashes and buckles/is a military hero
We know absolutely nothing about Colonel Fitzwilliam’s military career. Pride & Prejudice is set during the Napoleonic Wars and Colonel Fitzwilliam may have fought in France or in the colonies, but it’s just as likely he’s been stationed at home, especially since he’s from the nobility!
For a historical example, Arthur Wellesley, who would become the Duke of Wellington, did not see active combat until he was one rank short of Colonel, and he went abroad on purpose because he was rejected by a woman he loved. He could have kept his cushy job if he had wanted.
It’s hinted in Northanger Abbey that Captain Tilney is stationed in London and would be subduing riots. It makes a lot of sense not to have an eldest son in the actual line of fire. Similarly, we are told Col. F is “the younger son” of the Earl. If there is only an heir and a spare, they probably want to keep him alive.
Captain Tilney from Northanger Abbey 2007
Colonel Fitzwilliam is a good person
Darcy Sr. did appoint Colonel Fitzwilliam as co-guardian to Georgiana, but we know how flawed his judgement is *cough Wickham cough* so that isn’t quite a recommendation of character. All we really know about Colonel Fitzwilliam is that Elizabeth likes him, and sorry Elizabeth, your judgement isn’t much of a recommendation either! Especially since she compares him with Wickham:
It was plain to them all that Colonel Fitzwilliam came because he had pleasure in their society, a persuasion which of course recommended him still more; and Elizabeth was reminded by her own satisfaction in being with him, as well as by his evident admiration, of her former favourite, George Wickham; and though, in comparing them, she saw there was less captivating softness in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners, she believed he might have the best informed mind.
So yeah, Elizabeth likes him because it’s clear he likes her. Another great example of her being biased. She also clearly likes having someone to talk to who isn’t Lady Catherine.
Colonel Fitzwilliam cannot afford to marry Elizabeth
Unclear, but likely he can. Charlotte certainly thinks he can afford it:
In her kind schemes for Elizabeth, she sometimes planned her marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was, beyond comparison, the pleasantest man: he certainly admired her, and his situation in life was most eligible
When Colonel Fitzwilliam calls himself poor, Elizabeth calls him out on it and he doesn’t refute her:
“He likes to have his own way very well,” replied Colonel Fitzwilliam. “But so we all do. It is only that he has better means of having it than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.”
“In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now, seriously, what have you ever known of self-denial and dependence? When have you been prevented by want of money from going wherever you chose or procuring anything you had a fancy for?”
“These are home questions—and perhaps I cannot say that I have experienced many hardships of that nature. But in matters of greater weight, I may suffer from the want of money. Younger sons cannot marry where they like.”
“Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think they very often do.”
“Our habits of expense make us too dependent, and there are not many in my rank of life who can afford to marry without some attention to money.”
All of this seems to suggest that Colonel Fiztwilliam could marry Elizabeth, but he wants to maintain his standard of life and that requires a larger fortune. Also, most military men received some sort of allowance from their parents/family and he might have that cut off if he married against his parent’s wishes. (The military didn’t actually pay very well.) All of this considered, he could marry but he doesn’t want to drop his expensive habits.
Now we do know he liked Elizabeth, “Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them: anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had, moreover, caught his fancy very much.” and I do think he did the gentlemanly thing by letting her know that he didn’t want to marry her, but I still think Colonel Fitzwilliam is mercenary.
If his mercenary ambitions are justified or not is for us to decide as the readers. I think Colonel Fitzwilliam is part of the question of where we draw the line between avarice and prudence. The choices of so many of the characters challenge this notion. Was Charlotte merely prudent to accept Mr. Collins, or was that greed? Is Wickham merely trying to secure his future or is he a fortune hunter? Elizabeth’s own opinion of the people around her changes as the novel goes on, and we are left to decide where we draw the line too.
I personally am in favour of matching Colonel Fitzwilliam with Caroline Bingley, she’s got the money and he has the pedigree, it’s a match made in heaven!
Who do you imagine the Colonel marrying?