Thursday, 31 May 2007

Jon Spence on Jane Austen & Tom Lefroy

Below are the notes taken from ‘Becoming Jane Austen’ by Jon Spence, (2003) speculating on the relationship between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy:

  • “In Tom Jones, Henry Fielding plays with being wounded as a metaphor for being in love”. From the preserved letters, Jane talks about Tom Lefroy’s morning coat in a negative fashion, saying that Tom “therefore wears the same coloured clothes, I imagine, which ‘he’ (meaning Tom Jones) did when he was wounded.”
  • Six months after Tom left Steventon, Jane went to Kent with her brother Edward. They spent the first night in Staines and then continued to London, staying in Cork Street. This is known from the heading of a letter that Jane sent Cassandra during their stay. Tom Lefroy was at this time living in Cork Street with his great uncle Benjamin Langlois. “There is no proof that they stayed there but strange coincidence of they did not”. Factors supporting the notion that she stayed with Tom and his uncle in Cork Street:
  1. Cork Street a very short road (not many houses)
  2. Benjamin Langlois is the only rate-payer that the Austen’s would have connection with
  3. No house seems to have originally been a hotel- if this were the case, Jane would have headed the letter sent to Cassandra with the name of the hotel, not simply ‘Cork Street’.
  • There is a connection between Tom Lefroy and Pride and Prejudice. His favourite book, ‘Tom Jones’, contains the name Bennet. Also Jane called the 4th Bennet daughter Kitty and this is the name of Tom’s fourth sister.
  • It is speculated by Spence that Jane did not see herself as Lizzy but she did see Tom Lefroy that way. According to Spence, Jane had previously meddled with gender- Eliza de Feuillide had been the inspiration for Edward Stanley in Catherine (Jane's unpublished juvenilia)

  • “Between 27Oct and 17Nov 1798, Jane and Cassandra were separated- Jane was at home in Steventon and Cassandra was with Edward in Godmersham Park while his wife, Elizabeth, had her 5th child. The letters in this interval have been destroyed- it was during this time that Jane had learned that Tom Lefroy was again expected at Ashe.” Mrs Lefroy came to see Jane ‘alone’ on 14Nov. She told her that Tom had returned to London and would then soon after go back to Ireland to begin his law career.
  • “Tom had ten surviving brothers and sisters and as the eldest son, he was expected to make the whole family’s fortune.”
  • Tom died in 1869 at the age of 93 years. He was asked by one if his nephews if he had been in love with Jane Austen. The reply was that he had but it had been a ‘boyish love’. “Whatever his qualification means, his admission confirms that Jane was not mistaken: Tom Lefroy had been in love with her”.
A question asked by Jon Spence that I really value is why was this question ever asked at all? If Tom’s nephew had asked whether he and JA were acquaintances, this would make sense but the fact that he asked ‘were they in love’ shows that the question had been lingering within the family for over 70 years.

  • The name ‘Willoughby’ is in ‘Tom Jones.’
  • The name ‘Allen’ in Northanger Abbey is also in ‘Tom Jones.’
  • “Even though Mansfield Park in a way belongs to the period of Jane Austen’s life before she met Tom Lefroy, she yet again acknowledges some deep connection between him and her art. It was more that 15 years since she had met and fallen in love with him, and ten years since she had written anything new, but she again gave her sign that she had not forgotten him: Tom Bertram’s friends the ‘Andersons’ take their name from a family in ‘Tom Jones’.”

I personally think that there are two main things that highlight to me the truth in their love. Firstly, that she didn’t write for a period of ten years after she met him and he broke her heart. I know that she had other factors influencing her, e.g. the move to bath and the death of her father, but this must have influenced her decision to stop writing. Secondly, the themes of lost love and second chances in Persuasion. I think that this novel displays her true feelings regarding Tom Lefroy.

Pic1: Cover to 'History of Tom Jones' by Henry Fielding

Pic 2: Jon Spence, author of 'Becoming Jane Austen' (2003)

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