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Archive for the ‘Tom Lefroy’ Category


When Jane Austen was growing up in Steventon, Hampshire, she enjoyed the kind of social gatherings that we are familiar with in her novels. Local families like the Lloyds, the Lefroys and the Bigg-Withers were friends, and at some time all became romantically connected to the Austen family. These families enjoyed a similar position in local society and met at one another’s houses and were also invited into the upper circles where they might attend a ball. The aristocratic families included Lord Portsmouth at Hurstbourne, Lord Bolton of Hackwood and Lord Dorchester of Greywell. Squires included the Portals at Freefolk, Bramstons at Oakley Hall, Jervoises at Herriard, Harwoods at Deane, Terrys at Dummer and the Holders at Ashe Park – all names which can be found amongst Jane Austen’s letters.

The Rev. George Lefroy and his wife Anne who lived at Ashe had a considerable influence upon the Austen sisters. Jane’s relationship with Anne was particularly close even though there was an age gap of over 25 years. The feelings Jane had for her friend are shown in a poem which was written four years after Anne’s death. Tragically, Mrs Lefroy was thrown from a horse and died on Jane’s 29th birthday.

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind.
Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace!-
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!-

But it was Anne’s nephew Thomas who has interested Jane’s admirers ever since. Jane’s letters reveal how much she enjoyed Tom’s company and it is clear that she spent some time flirting and dancing with him at balls and local assemblies whenever the opportunity arose for the few weeks he stayed with his aunt in the Christmas holidays.

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs. Lefroy a few days ago.

Unfortunately, there are only a few teasing references to tell us about this ‘courtship’ and by the 16th January 1796 Jane was writing to her sister to say that Tom Lefroy would shortly be leaving to go home to Ireland. She may not have known at this point that he had probably already decided that he was to marry the sister of his friend, Mary Paul.

It’s hard to know if Jane’s tears really flowed but I think it was most likely with her tongue pressed firmly into her cheek that she wrote the following:

At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea.

Still, we shall never really know the truth of the matter unless some of those lost letters written between 1796-8 ever surface. In later life, Tom Lefroy did admit he had been in love with Jane Austen, but that it had been a ‘boys love’. Jane may have lost her heart temporarily – perhaps it was Tom Lefroy she was thinking of when she started writing First Impressions soon after, which, in turn later became Pride and Prejudice. It would be rather lovely to think that there had been a romance, but Jane would have known that her prospects for ‘securing’ him would have been slim. He was still training to be a lawyer and she had no money herself, and in those days, well brought up people did not disoblige their families by marrying for love alone, though this was a dictum that Jane seems to have railed against, if only in her books.

I recently read The Letters of Mrs Lefroy: Jane Austen’s Beloved Friend, edited by Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner. They show a fascinating picture of life in Hampshire from 1800 -1804

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Happy New Year! I’ve had a lovely, relaxing and happy Christmas and New Year with my family – I hope you all have too!

It’s very chilly here in England and with more snow expected this week, I know my fires will be well stocked with logs. For the first time in years we saw snow just before Christmas, which was very exciting for all small children anxious that Father Christmas would have no trouble getting here on his sleigh. I must admit I love to see a wintry landscape – this morning the frost is sparkling in sunshine in clear, bright light that dazzles the eye.

I’m embarking on several new and exciting projects, some of which are a bit secret at present, but I hope to have a new book ready soon and Mr Darcy’s Secret has been recently sent to Sourcebooks, which is to be published next spring.

I’ve been out and about in the beautiful city of Bath with my husband and camera – I hope to share some of the lovely photos I’ve taken there over the Christmas period with you all soon.

Here’s a letter written by Jane Austen in January 1796 when she was 20. This letter is full of a new acquaintance, Tom Lefroy, and is written to her sister Cassandra who was celebrating her own birthday. The letter is written in high spirits with descriptions of dancing with the handsome Tom, and it is clear that Jane enjoyed shocking the old ladies in the neighbourhood by favouring her partner with a dance more times than was considered seemly at the time. Her voice is young, optimistic and full of humour – we can hear the light tone of the girl who was to begin writing First Impressions, a prelude to Pride and Prejudice. I hope you enjoy the letter and my painting of Jane and Tom dancing the night away!

Steventon: Saturday, January 9

In the first place I hope you will live twenty-three years longer. Mr. Tom Lefroy’s birthday was yesterday, so that you are very near of an age.

After this necessary preamble I shall proceed to inform you that we had an exceeding good ball last night, and that I was very much disappointed at not seeing Charles Fowle of the party, as I had previously heard of his being invited. In addition to our set at the Harwoods’ ball, we had the Grants, St. Johns, Lady Rivers, her three daughters and a son, Mr. and Miss Heathcote, Mrs. Lefevre, two Mr. Watkins, Mr. J. Portal, Miss Deanes, two Miss Ledgers, and a tall clergyman who came with them, whose name Mary would never have guessed.

We were so terrible good as to take James in our carriage, though there were three of us before, but indeed he deserves encouragement for the very great improvement which has lately taken place in his dancing. Miss Heathcote is pretty, but not near so handsome as I expected. Mr. H. began with Elizabeth, and afterwards danced with her again; but they do not know how to be particular. I flatter myself, however, that they will profit by the three successive lessons which I have given them.

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at the three last balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs. Lefroy a few days ago.

We left Warren at Dean Gate, in our way home last night, and he is now on his road to town. He left his love, &c., to you, and I will deliver it when we meet. Henry goes to Harden to-day in his way to his Master’s degree. We shall feel the loss of these two most agreeable young men exceedingly, and shall have nothing to console us till the arrival of the Coopers on Tuesday. As they will stay here till the Monday following, perhaps Caroline will go to the Ashe ball with me, though I dare say she will not.

I danced twice with Warren last night, and once with Mr. Charles Watkins, and, to my inexpressible astonishment, I entirely escaped John Lyford. I was forced to fight hard for it, however. We had a very good supper, and the greenhouse was illuminated in a very elegant manner.

We had a visit yesterday morning from Mr. Benjamin Portal, whose eyes are as handsome as ever. Everybody is extremely anxious for your return, but as you cannot come home by the Ashe ball, I am glad that I have not fed them with false hopes. James danced with Alithea, and cut up the turkey last night with great perseverance. You say nothing of the silk stockings; I flatter myself, therefore, that Charles has not purchased any, as I cannot very well afford to pay for them; all my money is spent in buying white gloves and pink persian. I wish Charles had been at Manydown, because he would have given you some description of my friend, and I think you must be impatient to hear something about him.

Henry is still hankering after the Regulars, and as his project of purchasing the adjutancy of the Oxfordshire is now over, he has got a scheme in his head about getting a lieutenancy and adjutancy in the 86th, a new-raised regiment, which he fancies will be ordered to the Cape of Good Hope. I heartily hope that he will, as usual, be disappointed in this scheme. We have trimmed up and given away all the old paper hats of Mamma’s manufacture; I hope you will not regret the loss of yours.

After I had written the above, we received a visit from Mr. Tom Lefroy and his cousin George. The latter is really very well-behaved now; and as for the other, he has but one fault, which time will, I trust, entirely remove – it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light. He is a very great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore wears the same coloured clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded.

Sunday. -By not returning till the 19th, you will exactly contrive to miss seeing the Coopers, which I suppose it is your wish to do. We have heard nothing from Charles for some time. One would suppose they must have sailed by this time, as the wind is so favourable. What a funny name Tom has got for his vessel! But he has no taste in names, as we well know, and I dare say he christened it himself. I am sorry for the Beaches’ loss of their little girl, especially as it is the one so much like me.

I condole with Miss M. on her losses and with Eliza on her gains, and am ever yours,

J. A.

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