First of all, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Linda for sending me the precious manuscript. She was right; though Nadia Radovici’s book was relatively thin (only 81 pages), it dramatically increased my understanding towards Tom Lefroy, the main target of Jane Austen’s affection outside her family. The book is actually too much to summary; there are too many paragraphs I want to cite. Thus, here’s my best attempt so far to review it.
Radovici’s book consists of ‘only’ four chapters: (1) Northanger Abbey – The story behind the story; (2) Persuasion – What Jane Austen wished to tell in her last novel; (3) Somebody Jane Austen will never forget or forgive; and last but not least: (4) And what about the absent hero, Tom Lefroy?
In chapter one about Northanger Abbey, Radovici explains the similarities between heroine Catherine Morland and Jane Austen herself, plus (no less important) resemblance between Tom Lefroy and Henry Tilney. Both men were exceedingly charming young lads who were well-versed with a vast variety of subjects, including gardening, fashion and interest in Scriptures (albeit still mischievous in their early lives). Radovici also points out how General Tilney disliked Catherine Morland due to her disagreeable financial status… and so it seemed some people thought of Jane Austen in her relationship with Tom Lefroy.
Radovici then proceeds with Persuasion, noting that of the six of Jane Austen's novels, only this book and Northanger Abbey that had such l'accord parfait, where the hero and heroine somewhat fell in love at first sight. Character similarities between Henry Tilney/Fred Wentworth and Catherine Morland/Anne Elliot are also explored in the book, plus the fact that only these two novels were set in real place, i.e. Bath, with particular mentioning of Milsom Street. Could it be... that Milsom St. has historical value for Jane and Tom, not unlike the way Cork St. in London was?
Radovici offers a lot of the interpretation of Persuasion, many of them were cited or used in Walker’s Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy: Stories. One thing that also drew my attention was Lady Darlymple’s comment on Capt. Wentworth:
‘A very fine young man indeed! More air than one often sees in
We need not remind ourselves that Tom Lefroy was Irish, aye? Now, this one will please Arnie as well, for he loves to dig Emma. Radovici notices that Miss Campbell’s husband, Mr. Dixon, was from
‘…he [Mr. Dixon] had shewn them some drawings of the place, views that he had taken himself…Jane was quite longing to go to Ireland, from his account of things.’
And of course, after re-reading those lines, I could understand that JA was probably speaking of herself… dreaming of going to
Contrary to what I anticipated, Chapter 3 does not talk about Tom Lefroy. Instead, it is about Sir Egerton Brydges, Mrs. Anne Lefroy’s brother. Radovici believes that Sir Egerton may have talked Mrs. Lefroy into opposing Jane-Tom’s relationship, under the premise that Jane was not good enough for Tom. Consequently, Jane Austen used poor Sir Egerton as the template of her antagonists, e.g. General Tilney and Sir Walter Elliot.
The cream and ganache is chapter 4 (the absent hero Tom Lefroy). The chapter hit me immediately as I opened it (p. 48 onwards), as it contains ideas that I also thought of Tom Lefroy. Most importantly, his transformation from the happy-go-lucy and a bit mischievous young man into the grim bald chief justice. Radovici wrote that the image of young Tom is very different to the old one, a man 'who seems to have for ever forgotten how to enjoy life'. Oh, I consent 100%. The transformation can only be explained as 'the only way to avoid memories dear and painful, regrets and remorse to haunt his thoughts was to occupy his mind permanently, when not busy with professional problems, with the study of the Holy Scriptures'.
From Radovici, I learned that Tom Lefroy was the first son; his parents had ten children in total (Tom was actually the sixth child with five older sisters and four younger brothers). I had tried to find out how many siblings Tom actually had, but I have not succeeded (I should consult Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy, but I have no time for full reading yet). Hence, there you go. A middle child of a poor family with ten offspring in total. Remember what James McAvoy’s Tom Lefroy said when Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) asked how many siblings he had?
‘Enough,’ he replied wearily while observing the pensive Jane. ‘Why?’
Touché. And very sad as well.
In page 53, Radovici also asked this question:
How was it possible that the young man described by his tutor at
One explanation is possible: Tom Lefroy acted in order not to grieve and disappoint his uncle Benjamin Langlois, his benefactor, to whom he owed so much, out of a feeling of duty. As in the tragedies of Corneille, he had to struggle and to choose between his love and duty – or what he was convinced to be his duty.
And duty vanquished – he thus let himself be convinced to give Jane up and to be ‘hurried away’ without even saying farewell to the girl with whom he was deeply in love and who loved him dearly, and knowing he was breaking her heart. They obliged him to behave abominably. He was never to forgive himself. For a sensitive young man, the experience was atrocious. His religious faith was to support him.
I found myself shiver as I read Radovici’s pages. I have to admit that I had my reservations towards the old Tom Lefroy, and tried to understand why his pictures in the olden days were so different from the young one. Indeed, he had a very successful career and despite his controversial move of opposing the rights of the Catholics to vote, the older Tom Lefroy supported the ‘Society for Promoting Education of the Poor of Ireland’.
Now, I indeed I see Tom Lefroy as a broken-hearted person who tried to live his life anyway… and hence the Scriptures were his way out. But I still cannot dismiss the thought that had his life been happier; it would have shown in his pictures. I did not doubt that his marriage with Mary Paul was a good one… Radovici also said the same thing (p. 56), 'Mary Paul was indeed wise, kind-hearted and had a strong Christian faith'. I believe that Tom Lefroy learned to love Mary as she was… and hence they had years of happiness. But I also believe that Tom could never forget Jane Austen, his youthful love (see years 1795 and 1816 post). To remind himself of their conditions etc, he again used the Scriptures as his escape or salvation.
In the last chapter, Radovici also talked of Fielding’s History of Tom Jones; young Tom Lefroy’s favourite book. In Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, Henry Austen described her sister as ‘her eloquent blood spoke through her modest cheek’ (words of John Donne). In Tom Jones, Fielding also quoted John Donne to describe Sophia Western, lover of Tom Jones: ‘her pure and eloquent blood spoke in her cheeks…’ (Tom Jones, Penguin 1972, p. 352). Tom Jones was Tom Lefroy’s favourite book; Jane was very aware of that. And Henry Austen also quoted similar words… I have this creeping feeling that Jane still talked with Henry about Tom even after 1798. Or better… that Tom and Henry was still in contact afterwards (wait for my review of Henry Austen for this one! I owe Arnie for that).
By the way, I think Radovici was the first biographer who noticed that Tom’s eldest daughter was named ‘Jane’. Underlining that Tom Lefroy was very close to this particular daughter of his, Radovici also acknowledged the possibility that Tom gave that name for a hidden tribute to Jane Austen. Several reviewers disagreed though (e.g. Walker), arguing that Mary Paul’s mother (hence, Tom’s mother-in-law) was also named Jane; thus became the namesake for the young Jane Lefroy. My view? Well… Tom might sincerely used Lady Paul’s Christian name as the namesake for Jane Lefroy… but I fancy that he actually also gave a nod to Jane Austen by doing that.
It also worth noting what James Edward Austen-Leigh/JEAL said in his passage about Jane and Tom (Austen-Leigh 1871):
At Ashe also Jane became acquainted with a member of the Lefroy family, who was still living when I began these memoirs, a few months ago: the Right Hon. Thomas Lefroy, late Chief Justice of Ireland. One must look back more than seventy years to reach the time when these two bright young persons were, for a short time, intimately acquainted with each other, and then separated on their several courses, never to meet again; both destined to attain some distinction in their different ways, one to survive the other for more than a half century, yet in his extreme old age to remember and speak, as he sometimes did, of his former companion, as one to be much admired, and not easily forgotten by those who had ever known her.
Commenting JEAL’s statement, Radovici concluded the 81-pages book with this soulful paragraph:
I have read this passage many times. But now, after working on this manuscript – going through hundreds of pages in books, articles, reports – with all this knowledge in mind, reading these lines again, a spark of new understanding flashed. Thomas Lefroy said it: Jane was not to be easily forgotten, it was difficult to forget her – he was not able to forget her. I have now understood – but also James Edward understood – and forgiven. The old feud between the Austen and the Lefroy families was ended…
My own conclusion? A Youthful Love is a very excellent book worth reprinting (you hear that, Merlin Books?). Anyone would like to get a copy of it, just send me an
email. The only mistake I (as an amateur Janeite) picked was that Radovici identified Caroline (Jane's niece who wrote to JEAL on April 1st 1869) as Caroline Lefroy (Tom Lefroy’s sister), whereas this Caroline was Caroline Austen, sister of JEAL.
Austen-Leigh, J. E. 1871, A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections (2002
Radovici, N. 1995, A Youthful Love: Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy?, Merlin Books
Walker, L. R. 2007, 'Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy: Stories', Persuasions On-line, vol. 27, no. 1. Available from: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no1/walker.htm
Pic 1: Cover to Radovici's 'A Youthful Love'
Pic 2: Cover to Persuasion, Wordsworth edition
Pic 3: Young Tom Lefroy, c1799 by G. Engleheart (new colour picture provided by Linda, who agrees that James McAvoy looks bloody like the young Tom Lefroy!)
Pic 4: Jane and Tom in 'Becoming Jane' (from www.annie-hathaway.com)
Pic 5: Chief Justice Thomas Langlois Lefroy, c1855 by W.H. Mote
Pic 6: Sophia Western, 1820, engraved by J. C. Stadler and Piercy Roberts after a drawing by Adam Buck from Republic of Pemberley