Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Jane Lefroy: Tom Lefroy’s own Guardian Angel

I found it hard to obtain any original document that contained Tom Lefroy’s family tree, let alone the name ‘Jane Lefroy’. However, Radovici (1995) and Walker (2007) confirmed that Tom Lefroy’s eldest daughter was indeed named ‘Jane’ (they must have found it in a dusty document somewhere…). So, this is a short story about the enigmatic, yet surely charming, Jane Lefroy, the eldest daughter of Thomas Langlois Lefroy.

Thomas Lefroy (i.e. Jane’s brother, I refer to him as ‘Thomas’ here) never mentioned Jane’s name in the Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy. He only mentioned ‘To his daughter J –’ (well, in return, he also only said ‘To his son A –’; which might stand for Anthony, the eldest son in the family). Radovici noticed the absence of the daughter’s name, and as I followed her breadcrumbs, it was true that no name of ‘Jane’ was ever mentioned in the Memoir, with the exception of Jane Paul, Tom Lefroy’s mother-in-law. Of course, my question is: if there’s no harm in explicitly mentioning that Tom’s eldest daughter was Jane, why did Thomas not mention her name at all? But there was no such information. Thus, I think Jane Lefroy received her namesake not only from Mrs. Paul’s Christian name, but there is a big possibility that Tom actually acknowledged Jane Austen as well there.

Oh… I know that there was no Jane Austen mentioned in the Memoir at all, and I do not think that Tom Lefroy talked a lot about this Hampshire Jane with his family. Except later on… as he was older, old enough to be safe to talk about her with his nephew, Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy (TEPL), later the husband of Jemima Austen Lefroy (Anna Lefroy’s daughter). Thus, I was grateful that Thomas (author of the Memoir) stumbled over his father’s letter which contained information that talked about years 1795 and 1816. Tom Lefroy was subtle. Very subtle. But he still leaked information here and there (for instance, about Bray and County Wicklow, that I want to dig further).

Now, back to Jane Lefroy. Information about her is very scarce; I could not even track her date or year of birth (I have to ask Dublin, perhaps…, or obtain the Huguenot paper). I know that Tom’s first son (Anthony) was born in 1800. My guess is that she was born in 1805 or beyond.

I often wonder what was in Tom’s mind as he found out that Mary gave birth to their first daughter. What prompted him to give the name ‘Jane’? Because the baby girl looked like Mrs. Jane Paul when she was young? Or because the baby had little curls not unlike Jane Austen’s? Because the baby had such beautiful eyes that emanated love and life… that he once, or still, felt for Jane of Hampshire? Hence, he wanted to have his own Jane of Limerick, for as Radovici said, ‘there was, after all, to be a Jane Lefroy’? Unfortunately, it would only remain speculations.

But I know for sure that Jane was Tom’s ‘daddy’s girl’. Thomas Lefroy himself said that his father ‘playfully’ called Jane as ‘his guardian angel’. I doubt that Tom ‘playfully’ referred to Jane as such; on the contrary, I think he was quite serious. And I tend to believe that he truly saw the young Jane as someone very special for him. His Guardian Angel.

This is what Thomas Lefroy said in the Memoir, p. 383 (Radovici’s book mistyped it as p. 283):

‘His eldest daughter, whom he playfully called “his guardian angel”, was the constant companion of these daily rides; for from the time of our beloved mother’s death in 1858, she was hardly ever separated from him even for a day, and with untiring watchfulness and forethought she seemed to anticipate every wish and provide for every want almost before it was felt by the loved object of her care.’

FYI, Tom Lefroy loved riding in, especially in the later years of his life. Earlier in page 379, Thomas Lefroy also said that while confined inside the house due to disagreeable weather, his father loved ‘walking up and down leaning on his daughter’s arm’. It’s only an assumption, but since Lefroy was very close to Jane, I bet that Jane Lefroy was old Tom Lefroy’s walking companion. How sweet…the love of father and daughter comes almost second to none. And I love it how Becoming Jane incorporated the closeness of Tom (James McAvoy) and his daughter in the last scene, and how Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) could not conceal her utmost surprise to learn that Tom’s daughter was also ‘Jane’ (played by Sophie Vavasseur).

Did the young Jane stay with Tom as he took his last breath on May 4th, 1869? She might be married already…a wife with responsibilities for her husband and children. Tom might still try to advise her of the virtues of good Christian home and marriage… or he might just ask her to sit down next to him, watching the sun set for the last time. He would glance at Jane’s grown-up countenance, wondering how time went by unnoticed. He looked out the window and remembered his kind wife Mary, the woman he dubbed ‘the centre round which his every joy was circled’ in 1858 before her death. Tom Lefroy would then return his gaze at Jane that gave him a cup of tea. He reached for her hands instead, thanking her for being there as his guardian angel.

By then, I don’t think he was thinking of his mother-in-law. Instead, I feel that his mind caught a glance of another Jane. Jane Austen of Hampshire, whom he loved more than seventy years ago. The lively and witty Jane Austen that passed away more than fifty years ago… and that he would see her again soon, one way or the other.

PS 24 July 2007:

It is now confirmed that Tom Lefroy's eldest daughter was named 'Jane', and her complete name was Jane Christmas Lefroy. Jane Lefroy was born on June 24, 1802 and died on August 3, 1896. She was never married. It is very likely that the 'Christmas' indeed referred to Jane Austen, for Tom Lefroy met Jane Austen for the first time during the 1795 Christmas holiday in Hampshire. See this post for more info.

PS 27 July 2007:

We've created a special section for Jane Christmas Lefroy so that the Tom Lefroy section will not be overcrowded. Click here to see the on-going research on Jane Christmas Lefroy.


Lefroy, T. 1871, Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy, Hodges, Foster & Co., Dublin.

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

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

Pic 1: Snow Child, by Hilda Boswell (in 'Snow Child' from 'Treasury of Children's Stories')

Pic 2: Daddy's Little Angel, Alice Riordan, Meisner Gallery

Pic 3: A little girl by Hilda Boswell (in 'The Buckle' from 'Treasury of Stories, Nursery Rhymes and Verses')

Pic 4: Thomas Langlois Lefroy, c1855


Rachel said...

A beautiful last paragraph Icha- I definitely believe that Jane and Tom reunited in death.
Pic 3 is a great find- captures the essence of such a special relationship; father and daughter.
I couldnt help think whilst reading this post that if they could have been together, Jane Austen would also have become a Jane Lefroy. Is it possible that the name 'Jane Lefroy' could be the name of the famous author that delivered such wonderful novels that are still read 200 years later?!

Icha said...

Pic 2 about that sculpture you mean? Yeah, isn't it lovely? I'm glad I found it.

Funny you mention Jane (Austen) Lefroy, for I also thought of it this morning. If they got married, Tom and Jane, we would have Jane Austen Lefroy, or Jane Lefroy as the author of Pride & Prejudice etc.

What a strange thought...