Sunday, 12 August 2007

Excerpt from Parson Austen’s Daughter

Although Helen Ashton’s Parson Austen’s Daughter is a novel, it’s based on historical facts (mostly letters and family records) of Austens and a bit of Lefroys. As I said before, I must remind myself that most of the dialogs did not take place, or if it did, they were not in the same verbatim sentences/words. Nonetheless, as the book is out of print, I decide to copy several pages in relation to Tom Lefroy (duh!). The article will be in 2-3 parts, and here’s the first one, taken from the 1968 edition. Enjoy!

Page 86

But down in the country all that [French Revolution &c] seemed faint and far off to Parson Austen’s younger daughter and her friends, for this was the gay time of the year when the Assemblies were held in Basingstoke. Cassandra did not take much interest in them that year, for with Tom [Thomas Fowle] away there was nobody she cared to dance with any more; but young Jane, whose twentieth birthday fell in that December, was all eagerness, for she had a new beau, another Tom, an Irishman. He was Mr. Thomas Langlois Lefroy, nephew to Mr. Lefroy, the parson up at Ashe and eldest son of a Colonel Anthony Lefroy, who at that time had a very pretty property near Limerick. They were Protestants of the south, a very good family of Huguenot descent. The young man was studying law at Trinity College, Dublin, and had come over to his Uncle and Aunt in Hampshire for the Christmas festivities. Mrs. Lefroy was a good friend of the Austen girls, a pretty, delightful creature, gay and lively, always with many looks of eager love for Jane and she had made several opportunities already for the young couple to meet. Tom Lefroy was a tall pale young man, exceedingly handsome, who held his dark head very high and gave you a sidelong glance out of grey Irish eyes, put in, as the saying was, with a smutty finger. He was not the agreeable rattle which people had expected him to be from his nationality, but a rather silent and forbidding creature; possibly he was too proud or perhaps he was only shy. Cassandra could not make anything of him herself, but she saw that he was attracted by her sister, though he did not seem to know what to make of her. He listened to her gay talk, followed her about with those bright eyes of his, sat near her whenever he could and paid no attention to anybody else. Cassandra was anxious to see how he would behave at the Assemblies.

Page 97

The handsome young Irishman was always in and out of Steventon Parsonage in that December, 1795, when Jane was just twenty-one. He rode over most mornings, a fine figure on a good horse; sometimes Mrs. Lefroy or her girl Lucy came with him, more often he came alone to borrow a book, to try over some music, to engage Miss Jane for the first two dances at the ball which the Bigg-Withers were giving in January at Manydown. He was free of the girls’ dressing parlour and came there to talk or to make music. He had been astonished to find that the Austen girls did not ride and had expected to meet them in the hunting-field. In Ireland, it appeared, everybody rode as a matter of course. “There has never been any money to spare for that in our house,” said Jane, who had no false shame about their poverty. “But next time the Vine meet on this side of the country Cassy and I will walk up in our pattens to Deane Gate and see how you take your fences.”

If he could not ride with Jane, he could sing duets with her. He had a very agreeable tenor voice, musical in speech as in singing, as soft as Irish weather; she had a pretty light untrained soprano and played the pianoforte with delicate precision. How Sweet in the Woodlands, they tried, a hunting song which pleased and amused him; then Jane warbled Ask if the damask rose be sweet, a pretty melody from Mr. Handel’s admired oratorio, Susannah. She had another lament, How gentle was my Damon’s air, and songs by Arne and Dibdin which suited her voice. They went through a book of canzonets for two voices by Mr. Jackson of Exeter; then turned to livelier Scotch and Irish airs. “I hae laid a herring in saut,” sang Jane merrily and The Yellow-haired Laddie and Robin Adair. That was the Irishman’s favourite, he was always asking for it, and Jane would sing it obediently, while he sat and watched her.

Cassandra, stitching away unheeded in the window seat at a flannel petticoat for one of her old village women, kept her eyes demurely on her work, but still noted how earnestly the stranger looked at her sister. “What’s this dull town to me?” sang Jane, too gaily for the plaintive words. She laughed in the young man’s serious face, cried out, “That’s too sad a tune for a fine winter’s morning,” and began to rattle off the racing jig called The Irish Washerwoman, just to plague him. They read, they talked, they played and sang, they were always sparring. She rallied him unmercifully about his singing, about a white coat he had, about the manners and customs of the Irish. Gentle Cassandra sometimes thought that she teased him more than was prudent; she had learnt Eliza’s lessons of coquetry too well, she would frighten him away with her sharp tongue. He seemed a reluctant lover, unwilling to come, unable to keep away. Cassandra wondered what held him back. She spoke of the matter timidly to Jane, but her sister only answered lightly, “I must fight with what weapons I have.”

Pic 1: the cropped image of Jane Austen's sketch by Revd. James Stanier Clarke, 1815

Pic 2: the young Tom Lefroy, from Carrigglas website

Pic 3: Marianne Dashwood playing piano, Sense & Sensibility, from Jane Austen Centre, UK

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