Thursday, 28 June 2007

Letter 16 August 1870

Well, this is not Jane Austen's letter at all, but it is Jane-related as well. Excerpt of this letter was originally posted in this blog in the History of Tom Lefroy, but in case not everyone bother to read the long post, or also have read it and don't want to read it again, here's the complete letter from Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy (TEPL - Tom Lefroy's nephew) to James Edward Austen Leigh (JEAL - Jane Austen's nephew). Walker (2007) once acknowledged that the two families of Austen and Lefroy actually kept in contact for a long time, and this letter was one of the example. The letter was taken from page 58 of R.W. Chapman's Jane Austen: Facts and Problems (1948, reprinted in 1949, which I just borrowed from the library):

‘You have already given in a few sentences the chief part of what my late venerable uncle told me. He did not state in what her fascination consisted, but he said in so many words that he was in love with her, although he qualifies his confession by saying it was boyish love. As this occurred in a friendly and private conversation, I feel some doubt whether I ought to make it public.'

The letter, written a year after Tom Lefroy's death in 1869, was a reply from JEAL's inquiry about the old Mr. Lefroy's possible connection to the late Jane Austen, for JEAL was in the middle of writing the Memoir of Jane Austen. IMO, the letter explained a lot that Tom Lefroy was indeed in love with Jane Austen; only he was either too responsible or not rascal enough to break the rules of the 18th century. Nonetheless, JEAL respected TEPL’s discomfort in disclosing the information, and hence only stated in the Memoir that ‘these two bright young persons were, for a short time, intimately acquainted’.

Subtle. But for the benefit of Jane/Tom fans, somehow the letter 16 Aug 1870 was found and made public. And I thank The Force for that.


Chapman, R. W. 1949, Jane Austen: Facts and Problems, Oxford University Press, reprint from 1948, Oxford.

Walker, L. R. 2007, 'Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy: Stories', Persuasions On-line, vol. 27, no. 1.

PS 27 August 2007:

In the light of my latest post (Jane/Tom timeline), I originally thought that I made a mistake in writing the year of TEPL's letter (I thought it should be 1869, instead of 1870). However, after double-checking with Chapman's 1949 book, I realised that the letter was indeed dated 1870. Hence, the Tom Lefroy reference should not be found in the first edition of A Memoir of Jane Austen, which was published on December 16th, 1869. Or if it did, it would be of a rather different tone.

Pic: James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy (Jane Austen's Regency World, March/April 2007)

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