"Pictures of perfection, as you know, make me sick & wicked"

- Jane Austen
"Jane Austen is weirdly capable of keeping everybody busy. The moralists, the Eros-and-Agape people, the Marxists, the Freudians, the Jungians, the semioticians, the deconstructors - all find an adventure playground in six samey novels about middle-class provincials. And for every generation of critics, and readers, her fiction effortlessly renews itself."

- Martin Amis, in The New Yorker

Monday, August 25, 2008

Admirers Still Coming Out of the Woodwork

Is there no end to the list of men who fancied Jane Austen?

William Seymour was a lawyer, and a friend of Henry Austen. Around autumn 1812, he spent a whole carriage ride in Jane Austen's company, trying to decide whether to ask her to marry him or not. In the event, he did not.

It seems likely too that on her return from London Jane was accompanied home by her as yet undeclared admirer, William Seymour, for many years later he told a member of the Austen family that 'he had escorted [Jane Austen] from London to Chawton in a postchaise, considering all the way whether he should ask her to become his wife! He refrained however, and afterwards married twice.'

Cited by the indefatigable Deirdre Le Faye, in Jane Austen: A Family Record, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2004

Monday, August 4, 2008

Austen Autobiographical? "Persuasion"

From Chapter 1 of Persuasion

"Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester; by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, Nov. 5, 1789; Mary, born Nov. 20, 1791."

Precisely such had the paragraph originally stood from the printer's hands; but Sir Walter had improved it by adding, for the information of himself and his family, these words, after the date of Mary's birth -- "Married, December 16, 1810, Charles, son and heir of Charles Musgrove, Esq. of Uppercross, in the county of Somerset," and by inserting most accurately the day of the month on which he had lost his wife.

So Anne Elliot's sister Mary was married on Jane Austen's birthday, which also happened to be the date of Mrs Lefroy's death (Tom's aunt). The Elliots' mother's maiden name was Stevenson, not spelled with a "ph", so it reminds us irresistibly of the village of Steventon, where Jane grew up. Jane also seems to have mined her mother's Leigh and Perrot ancestry in using the name Musgrove, although the actual surname was Musgrave (one of Jane's godparents was Mrs Musgrave).

However, the most interesting thing here is that the stillborn Elliot son was born on the same date that Tom Lefroy's brother Anthony married Elizabeth Wilkin. Son Elliot was born 5 November 1789, Anthony Lefroy was married on 5 November 1798. Coincidence? Given Jane's obsession with dates in both her letters and her fiction, and that she got news of other Lefroy marriages - "the third Miss Irish Lefroy" [Jane to Cassandra, 18 December, 1798] - I very much doubt it.

Austen Autobiographical? "Emma"

Jane Austen, writing to Cassandra about Tom Lefroy, 9 January 1796:

You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together.

Emma Woodhouse, trying to decide whether she really is in love with Frank Churchill, and whether she can mention his name without embarrassing herself:

"Now, how am I going to introduce him? Am I unequal to speaking his name at once before all these people? Is it necessary for me to use any roundabout phrase? Your Yorkshire friend -- your correspondent in Yorkshire; -- that would be the way, I suppose, if I were very bad. No, I can pronounce his name without the smallest distress. I certainly get better and better. Now for it."

There is a further link, as Tom Lefroy's brother Anthony was based in York. See Tracking Tom Lefroy and His nephew at Becoming Jane Fansite for more information on the York branch of the Lefroy family.