Sunday, 8 July 2007

Anna Lefroy: a believer of Love

I want to post an article about Henry, but I think this gorgeous Austen lad has to wait and give the place to his niece: Anna Austen, who later became Mrs. Anna Lefroy, wife of Benjamin Lefroy.

Jane Anna Elizabeth Lefroy was born in 1793 as the first daughter of James Austen and Anne Mathew. Later, as Anna’s mother passed away in 1795, James married Marry Lloyd in 1797 and had James Edward Austen-Leigh (JEAL) and Caroline Austen as their children. JEAL, we know of course, later wrote A Memoir of Jane Austen.

Since she was a child, Anna was very close to Jane Austen. She stayed with Jane and Cassandra for two years in Steventon before her father (James) remarried. Anna often wrote to her aunt Jane, and received numerous letters, advice and love in return. I am sure that Jane also loved her other nephews or nieces, but, reading letters between the two women, I have the sense that Anna was special for Jane and vice versa.

Arnie once said that Anna Lefroy was the prime orchestrator for flaming the amber of old love between the original Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen. I agree with his opinion. In the Memoir, JEAL was very careful not to mention more than a paragraph of the brief interaction between his aunt and the Chief Justice of Ireland. In the Memoir of JA (p. 186), Caroline also warned JEAL:

‘against raking up that old story of the still living ‘Chief Justice’ – That there was something in it, is true – but nothing out of the common way – (as I beleive). Nothing to call ill usage, & no very serious sorrow endured. The York Lefroys got up a very strong version of it all, & spread their own notions in the family – but they were for years very angry with their Kinsman, & rather delighted in a proof as they thought, of his early heartlessness. I have my story from my Mother, who was near at the time – It was a disappointment, but Mrs. Lefroy sent the gentleman off at the end of a very few weeks, that no more mischief might be done. If his love had continued a few more years, he might have sought her out again – as he was then making enough to marry on – but who can wonder that he did not? He was settled in Ireland, and he married an Irish lady – who certainly had the convenience of money – there was no engagement, & never had been.

Caroline’s letter was dated April 1st 1869. Only a few weeks afterwards, Chief Justice of Ireland Tom Lefroy died on May 4th 1869. Afterwards on May 24th, Anna wrote to Emma Austen-Leigh (JEAL’s wife) the exact opposite fact Caroline testified (Faye et al. 1989, p. 251):

‘… I am the only person who has any faith in the tradition – nor should I probably be an exception if I had not married into the family of Lefroy – but when I came to hear again & again, from those who were old enough to remember, how the Mother had disliked Tom Lefroy because he had behaved so ill to Jane Austen, which sometimes the additional weight of the Father’s condemnation, what could I think then? Or what except to give a verdict… [of] ‘under mitigating circumstances’ – As – First, the youth of the Parties – secondly, that Mrs. Lefroy, charming woman as she was, & warm in her feelings, was also partial in her judgments – Thirdly – that for other causes, too long to enter upon, she not improbably set out with a prejudice against the Gentleman, & would have distrusted had there been no Jane Austen in the case. The one thing certain is, that to the last year of his life she was remembered as the object of his youthful admiration.’

Le Faye suggested that ‘Anna’s opinions [re: Jane and Tom] had evidently been formed from information given by her elder brothers-in-law George and Edward Lefroy…’ and also from Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy (TEPL, the old Tom Lefroy’s nephew who belonged to the York branch of the Lefroy family). It is very probable… but I think it is also possible that Anna perceived the information from her own aunt Jane Austen. Not directly, for I don’t think that Jane would relate such sorrowful story to her niece the way she would to Cassandra. But it is very likely that Anna somehow caught what truly happened between Jane and Tom, and she dug deeper and deeper.

Then, would her renewed knowledge on Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy spark Anna’s admiration to her aunt’s relentless love towards the missing-in-action Irish lad? I do not doubt it at all. Would Anna sometimes secretly hope that her aunt and Mr. Tom Lefroy were to unite again one day? Don’t know… will never know.

But we know one thing. On November 8, 1814, Anna Austen married Benjamin Lefroy, one of the sons of Mrs. Anne Lefroy of Ashe, hence Tom Lefroy’s cousin. Their marriage apparently was not a cheerful occasion; Caroline remembered that:

‘My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness… The season of the year, the unfrequented road to the church, the grey light within… no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to the wedding…’ (Radovici 1995, p. 24).

I wonder if the circumstances that happened to Jane and Tom also almost happened to Anna and Ben, i.e. their marriage was rather opposed by several people. It might be… since a marriage with approvals of both families would definitely be more cheerful than Anna’s. It also worth noting that during Ben’s ordination later on (apparently, he was a clergyman as well), the Bishop asked whether he was 'the son of Mrs. Lefroy of Ashe? And had he married a Miss Austen?' (Halperin 1984, p. 29). It seems that, the gossip seeped further…

I am sure that Jane Austen attended her niece’s wedding, and I wonder what Jane would think of Anna’s marriage and her luck to join the family of Lefroy as the older woman sat down among the guests and families inside the church. She was certainly very happy… and it is possible that she felt the irony as well; that she was attending a wedding of a Miss Austen to a Mr. Lefroy, but it was not Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy. When Anna gave birth to Jemima, Jane was very happy; though she also said that Anna would definitely want to see Jane’s Emma as well, for Emma was already published by that time (Letter 124, December 1815).

Against all odds, the love between Anna and Ben survived; their daughter Jemima even married Thomas E.P. Lefroy, who later supplied the most important information to JEAL. Following the footstep of her famous aunt, Anna Lefroy was also an accomplished writer. She wrote novella Mary Hamilton (1833), The Winter’s Tale (1841), Springtide (1842) and Recollections of Aunt Jane (1864). Anna also tried to finish her aunt’s last legacy Sanditon, to no avail. But Anna Lefroy managed to do one thing her dearest aunt Jane could not do: tying the knot with a Lefroy (even though Ben died too early in 1829), and even extended that trend into the second generation by marrying another Austen-Lefroy (their daughter Jemima) to a Lefroy (TEPL) on September 9, 1846. A believer of love, Anna Lefroy died in 1872; her living descendants survived until now.


Austen-Leigh, J. E. 1871, A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections (2002 Oxford edition), Oxford World's Classics, Oxford.

Cecil, D. 1978, A Portraif of Jane Austen, Constable, London.

Chapman, R. W. 1979, Jane Austen's Letters to Her Sister Cassandra and Others, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Cranfield, R. E. 1960, From Ireland to Western Australia: The Establishment of a Branch of the Lefroy Family at Walebing, Western Australia, 1842 to 1960, Service Printing Perth.

Faye, D. l., Austen-Leigh, W. & Austen-Leigh, R. A. 1989, Jane Austen: A Family Record, The British Library, London.

Halperin, J. 1984, The Life of Jane Austen, The Harvester Press Limited, Sussex.

Radovici, N. 1995, A Youthful Love: Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy?, Merlin Books Devon.

Pic 1: Anna Austen Lefroy as a young woman (from 'A Memoir of JA')

Pic 2: Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) and Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy) in London

Pic 3: Anna Lefroy as an elderly lady, 1845 (from Cecil 1978, p. 161)


Arnie Perlstein said...

Keep it up, Icha, you're smokin'!

Anonymous said...

This info is very interesting!! Thanks so much!

Icha said...

Thank you all! Also, Arnie, thanks for bringing Anna Lefroy closer to my attention. I've been thinking of this lady as soon as I learned that she married a Lefroy, and your previous comment on her (in the post of Cadell's letter) sparked my interest further.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Anna is the key, I become more and more convinced. She carried the flame after JA's death.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Does either of you happen to have contact info for any of Anna Austen Lefroy's descendants?