Saturday, 28 July 2007

More Jane & Tom breadcrumbs from Emma

As I was watching Kate Beckinsale’s Emma just now, I was struck (again) by how many Irish reference are there, and how I could be so blind not to make the connections. Remembering what Radovici wrote in ‘A Youthful Love: Jane Austen & Tom Lefroy?’ (p. 30) that Jane Austen made several Irish references in Emma, I pulled out my copy and skimmed the pages. And, recalling what Arnie said about Jane Austen’s own bread crumbs, I indeed found possible clues Jane left for us regarding her star-crossed love story with Tom Lefroy in Emma.

Now, I might be wrong, but I think Emma is the only Austen novel that has sprinkles of Ireland everywhere. Of course, one of the main supporting character (who was also a Jane: Ms. Fairfax) was designed to be seemingly in love with an unattainable Irishman who was about to be married in Ireland (Mr. Dixon in this story). And it’s not a rocket science to guess which one of Jane Austen’s acquaintance who was an unattainable Irishman…

I think Jane made at least two references of Tom Lefroy in Emma: Mr. Dixon and Frank Churchill. Of course, she mixed them with other characters as well; Frank Churchill was raised by his relatives the way Edward Austen (Knight) was. Mr. Dixon was an Irishman, ‘a most amiable, charming young man’, according to Miss Bates, who also added that ‘Jane [Fairfax] was quite longing to go to Ireland, from his account of things’ for ‘he [Mr. Dixon] had shown them some drawings of the place, views that he had taken himself’ (Emma, Volume II chapter 1). Hmmm, I bet Jane Austen also longed to go to Ireland, after listening to (or even looking at) Tom Lefroy’s description of his home island.

That was not the only time Mr. Dixon was promoted. Of course the story teller in the chapter was Miss Bates, who loved to chat about anything, thus her promoting the Irishman would not seem so odd. But I counted from my Penguin edition (2003) that Mr. Dixon was praised in at least four pages (149, 150, 155 and 164). That’s quite a lot for an Irishman that never truly appeared in the story.

In page 150 (Volume II chapter 1), Miss Bates continued rattling, ‘He [Mr. Dixon] is a most charming young man… I have been so fond of Mr. Dixon!’ In page 155 (Volume II chapter 2), Mr. Dixon’s charm was mentioned again: ‘Miss Campbell…engaged the affections of Mr. Dixon, a young man, rich and agreeable, almost as soon as they were acquainted; and was eligibly and happily settled, while Jane Fairfax had yet her bread to earn’.

Was Jane Austen talking of Mary Paul as she wrote Miss Campbell, or also of her old self who engaged the affections of Tom Lefroy almost as soon as they were acquainted? It could be both. But the last line (‘Jane Fairfax had yet her bread to earn’) was surely about Jane Austen herself, for by the time Tom married Mary, Jane was barely holding her own financial life.

In page 164 (Volume II chapter 3), Mr. Dixon’s charm was mentioned again by Miss Bates: ‘And Mr. Dixon seems a very charming young man, quite worthy of him.’ This Irish Mr. Dixon was surely quite important for Jane Austen…

And there was Frank Churchill, who pretended to tease Jane Fairfax, but in actually was secretly engaged with her, lest his aunt (Mrs. Churchill) would be mad because he was in love with a woman of no significant rank. Well, Tom Lefroy’s aunt (Mrs. Anne Lefroy) was also a bit cautious of Tom’s unexpected development with Jane Austen. Could it be that Tom and Jane resumed their relationship secretly for a while; at least after January 1796 and before November 1798? (This bread crumb continues in the upcoming post about Bath).

I also think that Frank Churchill's benefactor (Mrs. Churchill) might be the equivalent of Benjamin Langlois for Tom Lefroy. Mrs. Churchill and Mr. Langlois were both rich, and with NO offspring. And after all, the Judge was the benefactor of Tom's family, someone Tom should not mess with.

Another Irish reference in Emma that I found most intriguing was of the music. Frank Churchill was a talented singer, ‘he was accused of having a delightful voice, and a perfect knowledge of music…They had sung together once or twice…’ (Volume II chapter 8, p. 212).

My previous post referencing Jane and Tom singing together (taken from the book ‘From Ireland to Western Australia’, Cranfield 1960) had this quote:

He [Tom] had an agreeable tenor voice, while she [Jane] had a light soprano, and also played the pianoforte “with great precision.” They sang duets which included melodies from Handel’s Oratorio, “Susannah”, also Scottish and Irish airs of the popular kind.

In my post on Susanna, Arnie has confirmed that Helen Ashton’s ‘Parson Austen’s Daughter’ has the musical reference, so I think the information provided by Cranfield is valid. So, Frank had a delightful voice… and Tom Lefroy was also a good tenor singer. Both Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax sang duets together while Jane played the pianoforte… and so were Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, singing duets while Jane Austen playing the pianoforte. Interesting.

Arnie also provided info that Jane and Tom sang livelier Scotch and Irish airs, e.g. ‘I have laid a herring in saut’, ‘The Yellow Haired Laddie’, and ‘Robin Adair’, with a note that ‘that last supposedly being his favorite’. I’m still waiting for my copy of Ashton’s book, so I cannot check if Helen Ashton suggested it, or was it your own suggestion, Arnie.

In any case, the suggestion must have been inspired by Emma, for Frank Churchill also teased Jane Fairfax (page 226) by going, ‘And here are a new set of Irish melodies.’ And while Jane was playing the pianoforte, he said to Emma that Jane ‘is playing Robin Adair at this moment – his favourite.’ (Penguin notes that Robin Adair was a popular Gaelic Scottish and Irish music in the 18th century, appearing in the first volume of Irish Melodies, under the title of ‘Eileen Aroon’).

Hmmm… Robin Adair was Mr. Dixon’s favourite, eh? Or was it Frank Churchill’s favourite? Either way, I suspect that Robin Adair was one of Tom Lefroy’s favourites. And the fact that Frank Churchill sang duets with Jane Fairfax a few weeks after Christmas reminded me of the 1795 Christmas holiday where Tom Lefroy sang duets with Jane Austen in Hampshire.

Anyway, as Frank Churchill was supposed to have no interest whatsoever with Miss Fairfax, he joined Emma in teasing Miss Fairfax of Mr. Dixon and anything Irish. So, in chapter 10 (Volume II, p. 225), Frank said to Jane Fairfax, ‘How much your friends in Ireland must be enjoying your pleasure on this occasion, Miss Fairfax. I dare say they often think of you, and wonder which will be the day, the precise day of the instrument’s coming to hand.’

Earlier, Jane Fairfax had received a lovely pianoforte from Mr. X; Emma immediately gossiped with Frank that Mr. Dixon might be the one who sent the instrument. However, it was Frank Churchill who actually sent the pianoforte for Jane, as ‘an offering of love’. Now, I don’t think that Tom Lefroy sent Jane Austen a pianoforte (not even the second hand one, if ever any), for he would be on budget, too obvious and too early a stage if he did want to buy her one. But there were indeed several Irish songs in Jane Austen’s songbook. Is the speculation that Tom did give Jane the book, after all, correct? That Tom gave Jane an Irish songbook as an offering of love, or fondness, at least? And would he not often, or sometimes, think of Jane playing such music with her pianoforte?

One thing is sure for me: the many references to Irish and Irishman in Emma are too good to be coincidence. That must be Jane Austen leaving her bread crumbs there.

In this post, I also mention a possible reference of Bath through Frank Churchill. That’s not the only reference in Emma that might lead to Bath in 1797. I will talk about it later on in a post about Bath.


Austen, J. 1815, Emma (2003 edition), Penguin, London.

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.

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

Pic 1: cover to the A&E Emma DVD (1996) from

Pic 2: Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Palthrow) in the movie version of Emma, 1996

Pic 3 & 4: from the Jane Austen Centre, U.K.


Anonymous said...

Any good clues from Persuasion? I may have to read that one again just to find the bread crumbs. If my memory serves me correct, it should be full of Jane & Tom references!

This is so interesting. Sometimes Tom seems like a Willoughby and sometimes like a Darcy. Such a riddle.

Keep up the great work!

Icha said...

Oh yes! Loads from Persuasions. Check my fanfiction 'Countenance So Beloved' for a start:

and Ashton Dennis's review of Persuasion:

and this one:

And wait for my Bath article (which is hopefully posted tomorrow) for more on Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Emma itself!

Rachel said...

Another great post Icha. I think that the references to Ireland are not a coincidence. No matter what the criticisms of Becoming Jane might be, it is a fact that experiences heavily influence a writer's work and I think that this is a clear example of that. Particularly if intense emotions are involved, Jane used the irish references in Emma to remember and reflect on her memories of the time Tom and her spent together.

Icha said...

Thanks Rachel. Yes... I start to think that Arnie was right... that Jane left quite a few breadcrumbs for us to trace back. Perhaps we have to re-read Mansfield Park again as well... (though it's rather too Gothic... I love Emma much better! She's just too funny!)

Arnie Perlstein said...

Icha, you have to read ALL the novels, and then reread them! They, along with her letters, are the "Torah" that we must turn and turn in order to get closer to her truth.

I would agree with you that there is a connection between Tom Lefroy and the Irish references in Emma, but I caution you to be careful in your conclusions---there are actually SEVERAL Irish sources for Emma, and Tom Lefroy is only one of them. My research has shown me, time and again, that Jane Austen had a special love for symbols, images, places, names, turns of phrase, etc., which had MULTIPLE meanings. It fit with her extremely complex and subtle artistry, she was such a great genius, she could juggle many metaphorical balls at the same time, and so, just keep in mind that everything Irish in Emma is not just about Tom.

Icha said...

Oh, yes of course, Arnie. I'm not saying that Jane ONLY wrote about Tom, she's not that...'hopeless' you know. She's very brilliant, and I understand that she can also refer to many things else other than Tom. But the Irish references in Emma that I'm writing about is, to me, very closely related to Tom.

Also, I just realised that Frank Churchill's benefactor, Mrs. Churchill, did not have any offspring. That's very Benjamin Langlois to me.

Thanks though for your skepticism! :-D

Arnie Perlstein said...

Not skepticism, but filling in all the blanks in the puzzle grid, not just some of them. ;)

Icha said...

Ah... but I'm only snooping for Jane and Tom. The job to unearth zillion of other info from Emma falls on your shoulder, my dear friend!

What do you think of my latest post on Bath, by the way? I half dread what you will say about that :-P

Arnie Perlstein said...

I will post my reaction to your Bath post there in a few moments, but you need never dread my comments! ;)

The only problem with your snooping only for Jane and Tom is that you will miss many things that relate indirectly to Jane and Tom if you are too narrowly focused.