Eagerness to inject passionate romance into Jane Austen’s life—whether with the young Irishman Tom Lefroy or someone else—is nothing new. Speaking in 1925 to the Royal Society of Literature of the U. K. about the “gap” in Austen’s literary productivity between 1797 (First Impressions) and the “flood” of novels after 1811, H. W. Garrod sensibly cautioned:
Miss Austen’s biographers have sought the explanation of the mystery in a love affair. But perhaps a simpler explanation [is] . . . that, though she had written her first three novels by the end of 1798, she had not found a publisher for any of them until 1811. A genius, the most philo-progenitive, necessarily feels its ardours a good deal damped by the misfortune of three stillborn children. (27-28)1
With Miramax’s 2007 release of Becoming Jane, “philo-progenitive” speculation will spread from the world of Austenites to the movie-going public. Many film-goers will believe not only that Lefroy was Austen’s romantic muse but also that she retained a passionate place in his heart. At the film’s end, an older, greyer Tom Lefroy reunites with Jane Austen, who looks shockingly like George Eliot, and tells the novelist that his teenage daughter who accompanies him is named “Jane,” leading Lefroy and Austen to look meaningfully into each other’s eyes—notwithstanding that Jane Lefroy’s grandmother was Mrs. Jane Paul (Memoir 15, 16, 18).2
Miramax’s film was inspired by Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane Austen (2003), which also influenced Linda Robinson Walker’s 2006 “Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy: Stories.” Walker also seconds the idea that Austen was thinking of Lefroy with romantic melancholy as late as 1805—an idea, as Walker acknowledges (para. 25), that Nadia Nahmias-Radovici offered in 1995 in A Youthful Love: Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy (8-10).3
In researching the character of Tom Lefroy, nephew of Madam Lefroy, Austen’s beloved mentor and friend, for a 2006 essay in Notes and Queries, I began to question the extent of the Austen/Lefroy relationship and to perceive him as a young man of unquestionable probity and strong professional ambition whose heart actually belonged to another at the time he met Austen.4 This essay develops ideas first presented there, as well as offering some things new. Its dual guiding premises are that Lefroy was both too principled and too involved with a young Irishwoman, the sister of his close college friend, to trifle with or pursue Austen, and that young Jane Austen, (with apologies to my fellow-Janeites) an overly-exuberant young lady, misread Lefroy’s intentions. Tom Lefroy is thereby exculpated from the charge leveled by his aunt, Madam Lefroy, of “behav[ing] so ill to Jane Austen” (Anna Austen Lefroy, qtd. in Le Faye, “Tom Lefroy” 337).
Assessing the connection between Austen and Lefroy must begin with what Austen actually says about the contact they had. Her letter of 9-10 January 1796 speaks teasingly to her sister, Cassandra, about how she and her “Irish friend” were “profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together” at three holiday balls. She also admits: “But as to our having ever met, except at the last three balls, I cannot say much,” emphasizing their limited contact. Noting that Tom “ran away when we [i.e., likely Austen and her mother] called on Mrs Lefroy a few days ago,” she assumes he is “ashamed of coming to Steventon.” A few days after the running incident, Tom appears at Steventon, accompanied by his teenage cousin, George Lefroy.
In Austen’s letter of 14-15 January 1796, she writes to her sister, “I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening [i.e., of the fourth ball at Ashe, the Lefroy home]. I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat,” referring to Tom’s sartorial choice that reflects the eponymous Tom Jones’s wearing a white coat; in the earlier letter, she had observed that Tom is a “very great admirer” of Tom Jones. (While Lefroy may have admired the imprudent hero of Fielding’s novel, this essay will show that Lefroy, himself, was a most prudent young man.) What could she mean by an “offer”? As her first letter revealed, the two had little if any contact besides at the balls. With Tom’s fleeing Ashe when the Austens arrive and then visiting Steventon with George a few days later, an “offer” to dance sounds far more likely than an offer of romance. If Austen is not being facetious in this letter, she is unfortunately expecting more from Tom Lefroy than he has even hinted at offering her, based on her own words about their contact.
Then we have the brief—and for some, tantalizing—letter of 23 August 1796 to her sister, written from Cork Street, London, where Austen and her brothers Frank and Edward spent time en route from Steventon to Edward’s Godmersham estate. Although Austen does not mention Lefroy here, Spence shows that Tom’s great-uncle, Benjamin Langlois, lived in a house on Cork Street (98-99). Tom lived with him while he was pursuing his legal studies. Spence reasonably assumes that the three Austen siblings stayed at Langlois’s home because there were no hotels on the street then. But Austen’s writing, “I begin already to find my Morals corrupted” in her brief letter need not relate to her being in Tom’s London home, redolent of his manly presence. First, it is unlikely that Tom was even there in August because Lincoln’s Inn was not in session: Trinity term ended on June 15th and the next term, Michaelmas, would not start until November 6th (Warr). Irish students normally returned home to Ireland during the long break (Hutchings, 11 April 2006).
Secondly, Austen’s saying in the note that she is now in London, a “Scene of Dissipation & vice,” would be in vogue with the popular literary convention that the city (London) is a den of iniquity, while the country is a place of innocence.5 That London was seriously viewed as morally seductive is clear from a letter written by Tom Lefroy’s Trinity College tutor, the Rev. Dr. Burrowes (later Dean of Cork), dated April 21, 1795: “Of his [Tom’s] conduct in London, however seducing its idleness and its evils, you need not have the slightest doubt” (Memoir 14, my italics).6
Austen’s final epistolary reference to Tom occurs in her letter of 17-18 November 1798. The letter indicates that Madam Lefroy knew that her Irish nephew was not romantically pursuing Jane Austen. Austen writes that “of her nephew [Madam Lefroy] said nothing at all,” and touchingly that she herself “was too proud to make any enquiries,” showing that Austen had far more interest in Lefroy than he had in her. When the Rev. Mr. Austen asks about Tom, they learn from Madam Lefroy that “he was gone back to London in his way to Ireland, where he is called to the Bar and means to practise.” Madam Lefroy then shows Austen a letter from the Rev. Samuel Blackall, a twenty-seven-year-old Cantabrigian, in which he mentions the Austens—in something of a Collinsesque way!—suggesting that Madam Lefroy was hoping to connect Austen and Blackall. Madam Lefroy had invited Blackall to Ashe for the Christmas holidays of 1797/98 and introduced him to her dear Steventon neighbor (Le Faye, Chronology 204). But in this same letter, Austen herself recognizes their mutual indifference.7 The point is that Madam Lefroy initiated the Blackall-Austen acquaintance in December 1797, just a year after she hosted Tom at Ashe. Does it not sound as if Madam Lefroy, herself, wanted to run out of Steventon rather than raise Tom Lefroy’s name? (Allow me to tip-toe out on a limb: there may be something of Madam Lefroy in Emma Woodhouse, matchmaker manqué.)
Some of those eager to get Austen and Lefroy together also turn to a passage in Austen’s letter to Cassandra of 8-11 April 1805, written in Bath, to suggest that “Jane and Tom may have met again in Bath” (Nahmias-Radovici 8-10; Walker, para. 25-26):
Richard Chamberlayne & a young Ripley from Mr Morgan’s school, were there; & our visit did very well.—This morning we have been to see Miss Chamberlayne look hot on horseback.—Seven years & four months ago we went to the same Ridinghouse to see Miss Lefroy’s performance!—What a different set are we now moving in! But seven years I suppose are enough to change every pore of one’s skin, & and every feeling of one’s mind.
Far less titillating than suspecting that Lefroy had been in Bath with Austen “seven years and four months ago” is conjecturing that during that same period, Austen and her family saw Lucy Lefroy riding in Bath in the company of Lucy’s mother, Madam Lefroy. On Jane Austen’s birthday in 1804 (with Lucy now married to Henry Rice and a mother, another big change since Lucy was riding in Bath), Madam Lefroy died in a horseback riding accident. Austen would show how deeply this event affected her by writing an affectionate poem, “To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy,” in 1808—four years after Madam Lefroy’s death (MW 440-42). Clearly, Austen had deeply retentive feelings for another Lefroy besides Thomas.
As I have observed, some persons mine Austen’s epistolary comments to dig up a passionate, extended romance between Austen and Lefroy—one that influenced her writing. But Austen’s letters really do not tell us much about Tom Lefroy—other than that he ran away from the Austen ladies and that she thinks he is “ashamed” to visit her—in terms of his real character. To understand the events of Tom’s life and his actual nature, we must turn to the 1871 Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy. While the author’s being Thomas Lefroy, son of the Tom Lefroy in Austen’s letters, might lead one to think that this biography is written with the “family prejudice” that Mr. Gardiner suspects when he hears Mrs. Reynolds praise Darcy (PP 249), the Memoir includes letters about Tom’s character and career plans written by Tom’s Trinity tutor, the Rev. Dr. Burrowes, who has earlier been introduced, as well as by Tom’s great-uncle Benjamin Langlois and by others who knew and witnessed Tom’s behavior during his late teens and early to mid-twenties.8 The letters give us an objective picture of a pious, principled, responsible, and ambitious young man, who would not have “led-on” a young woman—thus corroborating the praise that Thomas Lefroy extends to his father.
For example, Langlois praises “Thomas,” as he liked to call him, in a letter to his nephew, Tom’s father. Writing on 22 November 1790, “[i]mmediately after [Tom’s] entering Trinity,” Langlois stresses that even at Thomas’s young age (not quite fifteen),9 he was “so advanced for his years” that he was sure to succeed (Memoir 6). Subsequent letters from Langlois printed in the Memoir follow Thomas’s academic career and legal ambitions. Writing again to Tom’s father on 20 November 1791, Langlois speaks of Thomas’s being an “assiduous” student with “talents and disposition” that augur “success” (7). In another Langlois letter to the same (10 December 1792), he praises Thomas for “keep[ing] the lead in so distinguished a class” at College and having “everything in his temper and character that can conciliate affection. A good heart, a good mind, good sense, and as little to correct in him as ever I saw in one of his age” (8). In fact, Tom retained “the lead” in his “distinguished” cohort of students, earning the “gold medal of his class” (Memoir 12).10
And what of Tom’s personal life, beyond his academics? Based on the Memoir, it is likely that Tom had already met and seriously thought about the woman he would marry, Miss Mary Paul, while at Trinity and at least two years before he met Jane Austen. As I observe in the 2006 NQ essay, Tom developed “a warm friendship” with a fellow student, Mr. Thomas Paul, “during their College course” (Memoir 14): between November 1790 and April 1795 (12).11 The Memoir likewise states that “during their [the two Toms’] College course,” Lefroy visited the Paul family, who were still in Ireland then, “and, very soon, an attachment sprung up between him and Mr. and Mrs. Paul’s only daughter [Mary],” to whom he became engaged in 1797 (14-15).
Based on his character as presented in the Memoir, Tom does not sound like Edward Ferrars, foolishly entering a youthful engagement before having any career plans—just a year after leaving Mr. Pratt’s school (SS 130). Unlike Edward, Tom efficiently pursued his professional ambitions before pursuing his marital plans. To practice at the Irish Bar, a prospective Irish lawyer was required keep terms at one of the Inns of Court in London (Hutchings, 23 June 2007). Thus, Tom signed the registration book at Lincoln’s Inn 11 October 1793, well in advance of his physical attendance, which began in mid to late 1795 (H. Lefroy 11). In 1794, while still a Trinity student, he also registered at King’s Inn, Dublin (Hogan). Then during Lincoln’s Inn’s Easter Term (April to June) 1797—just between fourteen and sixteen months subsequent to his meeting Austen—he returned to Ireland to register at the Irish Bar, thereby cementing the location of his career choice (Memoir 20). During this visit, Tom became formally engaged to Mary Paul, thus cementing his personal choice. It is reasonable to say, then, that he knew Mary Paul for at least two years—well in advance of his meeting Jane Austen—before they became engaged in spring 1797.12 Being formally engaged, the couple “was allowed to carry on a correspondence” (Memoir 15).
Tom’s 1797 engagement to Mary helps to explain his running away from Ashe when the Austen ladies called in January 1796. Thinking of Mary Paul, whom he had met during his “college course” and with whom he “very soon” developed an “attachment,” the principled Tom did not wish to mislead Jane Austen, who, he could see, was interested in him. Tom could not help but know of this interest: Austen wrote in her letter 9-10 January 1796 that the Ashe Lefroys were laughing at Tom “about me.”13 His calling at Steventon in the company of his cousin George “a few days” after his running stunt implies to me that Madam Lefroy gave her nephew marching orders to pay a courtesy call on the Austens after his abrupt and impolite departure from her home when they called “a few days” earlier. So why not take George along as a buffer? Tom’s behavior towards Austen is not that of a man in love with her. If Jane Austen was anything at all like Mary Russell Mitford’s mother remembered her—“the prettiest, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butter-fly she ever remembers” (L’Estrange 1.305-06)—Tom must have been uncomfortable, seeing that his dancing and conversational courtesy had been misconstrued by the flippant and flirty young lady in question, as well as by the teasing Ashe Lefroys.14 Lt. Col. J. A. P. Lefroy’s reaction to these events is similar to mine: “How serious was this? Unfortunately, we have only one side of the story—Jane’s. From the letters that remain it seems fairly clear that she made all the running” (152).15 Consider, as well, that with Cassandra now engaged to Tom Fowle, her younger sister might have felt some pressure, even self-induced, to find a fiancé of her own, leading her to behave around Tom Lefroy and write to her sister about him in an overly-exuberant way. No wonder Tom ran.
Returning to her letter of 17-18 November 1798, we recall that Austen only learned of Toms’s plan to practice at the Irish Bar during Mrs. Lefroy’s visit on Wednesday, November 14, 1798. Apparently, then, Tom did not think it necessary to tell Austen of his long-held ambition and activities toward fulfilling it while they were sitting down together and chatting at the four dances they attended between December 1795 and January 1796. And why should he? He was planning to return to Ireland to propose to Mary. Dancing together at four holidays balls did not mean a romantic interlude to Tom Lefroy.
Tom’s dual spring 1797 engagement and Irish Bar registration also affect our understanding of Austen’s reminiscence about “seven years and four months ago” (i.e., January 1798) in the April 1805 letter from Bath. The Memoir states that Mary preserved all of the letters she received from Tom, beginning with those written after their engagement in spring 1797 after he returned to London to continue his legal studies until 1799. The couple’s desire to correspond is made even clearer when we learn that before practicing at the Irish Court in 1800, Tom continued to devote “himself . . . with perseverance to the study of law” at the Temple in London, still “resid[ing] with his grand uncle Mr. Langlois,” but now, as an engaged man, receiving letters from Mary (15, 20). Consider that in a letter dated April 21, 1795 (just eight months before Lefroy met Austen at the first holiday ball and at the time of his Trinity graduation), the Rev. Dr. Burrowes wrote of having “such intimate knowledge of [Tom’s] disposition and habits” that he can attest to the nineteen-year-old Lefroy’s “talents and judicious diligence,” “religious principles,” and “just ambition” to practice law in Ireland (Memoir 13-14). Had Tom been romancing Jane Austen in Bath in early 1798, while simultaneously writing to his fiancée, he would have been cheating on both young women, behavior that contradicts the earnest, moral young man of the Memoir.
Burrowes was in an excellent position to evaluate Tom’s character. He was Tom’s tutor for Tom’s entire Trinity College experience (c. November 1790-April 1795), and Tom lived with Burrowes’s family during this period, leading Burrowes to say of Tom, “I feel for him as a son or a brother” (21 April 1795, 13-14). The facts of Tom’s Trinity years corroborate Burrowes’s glowing evaluation of his student and boarder at the time of his graduation. Tom was so active in the College Historical Society that he proactively led in December 1794 the “series of Resolutions” to found a new College Historical Society to replace the first one that was disbanded in 1790 because of debates that “breache[d] College discipline” (Memoir 12). He must have been a persuasive orator and respected student when he addressed the Trinity administration on the Society’s behalf, for they acceded to his request. Going on to win four awards from this same College Historical Society (one for history and three for oratory in 1793, 1794, and 1795), Tom took all the College examinations, “taking the highest prize of each year” (12).
Tom’s behavior during his Lincoln’s Inn period—specifically spanning the Austen years, as he physically arrived at the Inns of Court in mid to late 1795 to begin “keeping terms”—was no different from what it had been at Trinity. He habitually applied himself to his legal studies, which was greatly a matter of personal preference. That is, in those days “keeping terms” at the Inns of Court was not equivalent to today’s law school with formal classes. Citing an e-mail from the Lincoln’s Inn Librarian, Helen Lefroy reports that
Irish students were required to keep eight terms commons. . . . “Keeping terms” was simply a matter of dining the right number of times during Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas terms. . . . The four Inns of Court provided no legal training whatsoever. Young aspiring barristers could attend the courts, study available textbooks, read up cases in the chambers of a practicing barrister, or work in an attorney’s office. (H. Lefroy 13; similar to Hutchings, 11 April 2006)
Preparing for the rigorous legal examinations that one needed to pass to practice law was up to the individual. Of course, there were young men who, while dining the requisite number of times at the Inns of Court, never became lawyers. Austen even created one: George Wickham. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth states that Wickham “‘had some intention . . . of studying the law . . . in town’” (i.e., in London at one of the Inns of Court), but “‘his studying the law was a mere pretence’” for “‘a life of idleness and dissipation’” (PP 200-01). Interestingly, Becoming Jane presents law-student Tom Lefroy in this very guise—fist-fighting in an alley, drinking and cavorting with whores, and scurrying late into court—at the beginning of the film, which I mention in the Q&A in the Production Notes on the movie’s website.
The real Tom, however, was “daily at Westminster Hall, where” he so assiduously observed “the Courts presided over by such men as Lord Eldon and Lord Kenyon” that “he . . . left a large collection of manuscript essays and readings on various heads of Common Law and Equity, written while he was keeping his Law Terms at Lincoln’s Inn, that would rank high—even amongst the many valuable Digests now extant” (Memoir 20). As a student he “laid in a store of knowledge with which few students ever commenced their professional career” (20). The sizable manuscript essay collection amassed from Lefroy’s Lincoln’s Inn-days verifies Lefroy Junior’s assessment of his father’s exceptionally diligent study habits.
Tom’s unusual perseverance as a student of the law paid off. One of Tom’s friends, Charles D. Hoare, heard the twenty-five-year-old Tom, now practicing at the Irish Bar, argue in the Dublin Court “a writ of Error before the Exchequer Chamber” in November 1801 (Memoir 21). According to Hoare’s letter to Colonel Lefroy, Tom, after speaking for two hours (remember those Trinity Oratory medals!), apologized to Lord Clare for using so much of the Court’s time, only to have Lord Clare respond, “Mr. Lefroy, you have no reason whatever to lament, for you have argued the case with most uncommon precision and much satisfaction to the Court” (my italics, showing that Tom stood out in Court just as he did at Trinity and Lincoln’s Inn). Moreover, the Chief Baron of the Irish Bar commented that Lefroy’s presentation that day “was the ablest which has been made at the Irish Bar”—verifying the epistolary comment made by Burrowes six years earlier (April 1795), when he wrote that “no young man has left our College with a higher character” nor probably with as many medals (Memoir 21-22, 13). As Lefroy’s biographer-son modestly says of his uniquely brilliant and legally-skilled father, “His habits of application while at the Temple [i.e., in London] appear to have borne early fruit” (Memoir 21).
With Tom fulfilling his ambition to practice law in Ireland, we turn back to those who believe that Austen’s being English was a “point in her favor” in terms of gaining approval from Langlois. Walker says that Langlois was “no friend to the Irish” and had “consistently tried to woo Tom to England” (para. 20, citing the Memoir 4). She also observes that in 1763, Langlois called the Irish “savages” in a letter to the Duke of Portland (para. 20). So why would Tom even go back to Langlois’s house to resume his legal preparations at the Temple after spring 1797—after his registration at the Irish Bar and engagement to the now letter-writing, Irish Mary?
The Memoir shows that Langlois’s desire for Tom to be in England was a matter of fellowships, not fiancées:
[A]fter the idea of [Tom’s] being sent to an English University was abandoned, Mr. Langlois’ desire was that [Tom] should read for a fellowship in the University of Dublin, and we might naturally suppose that the suggestion of so influential a relative, and one who took so deep an interest in his welfare, would have had great weight in such a matter yet nothing turned his [Tom’s] attention for a moment from the Irish Bar as the sphere of his future labours. (5, my italics)
If Langlois did not want Tom to be in Ireland in the mid to late 1790’s (thirty years after making his Irish “savages” remark), why would he urge Tom to secure a fellowship at the University of Dublin?16
Langlois’s lengthy letter of November 3, 1793, written to Tom’s father, clarifies the intention behind his desire for Thomas’s securing a fellowship, whether at an English or Irish university: having a fellowship meant having a classical academic education prior to pursuing professional studies. In this letter, Langlois states that securing a fellowship “was always my favourite object for Thomas.” But “whether he means to stand for a Fellowship or not,” Langlois elaborates, “let him by all means go on with his academical studies. Let him form his taste upon the great Greek and Roman models” (Memoir 9). Langlois continues, urging the Colonel to prevent Thomas’s
substituting another course, of making him either a lawyer, a statesman, or an orator, while at the University, he would lose all the advantages of a learned academical education. . . . A University education gives strength and vigour to the mind. . . . (Memoir 11)
Langlois’s point is even clearer when we realize that one did not need a University degree to register at the Inns of Court (Hutchings, 23 June 2007). Benjamin Langlois, however, desired Thomas to master the knowledge and skills of a classical University undergraduate education and complete his degree program—which Tom, indeed, did, earning his Trinity B.A. in 1795 (Hamilton)—before pursuing his professional legal studies in London.
Tom’s character, which is presented in the Memoir, helps to explain Tom’s behavior during that winter holiday period of 1795/96, when he met and danced with Jane Austen, as well as when he ran away from her and failed to tell her of his career plans. Family gossip has been handed down regarding his behavior towards Austen, even as Austen’s statements in her letters attest to minimal contact between her and Tom. Yet desiring to create a passionate romance for Austen, mistress of love stories, proponents of an Austen-Lefroy “philo-progenitive” relationship have either failed to consult the Memoir or consulted it only selectively. Putting what Austen actually states in her letters together with what the Memoir reports of Tom’s character and activities suggests that their biggest topic of conversation was the color of his coat. Besides, if the Jane Austen-Tom Lefroy relationship had been a passionate romance, would the ever-vigilant Cassandra, keeper of thousands of her sister’s letters, allowed the Lefroy-letters to escape the flames in which she burned the epistles that she felt embarrassing or compromising to her beloved sister? Finally, as the research of Jocelyn Harris, in particular, has shown, while Austen’s life provided literary inspiration, so did her imagination and her reading.
1. While Garrod sees the “gap” in Austen’s literary productivity between the completion of “First Impressions” (1797) and the publication of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Spence, of course, sees Austen’s beginning “First Impressions” (1796) as the spark of creativity lighted by her relationship with Tom Lefroy.
2. The Memoir is Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy by his son, Thomas Lefroy, hereafter cited as Memoir. Having studied the Memoir, I interpret the elderly Justice Lefroy’s recalling his “boy’s love” of Austen as another example of the kindness and high principles for which he was distinguished in his youth, as this essay will show. See Helen Lefroy for the “boy’s love” remark (11).
3. Spence argues that Lefroy’s and Austen’s reading of Tom Jones empowered her writing, and he attributes to Lefroy the “intense vitality and passion” of Pride and Prejudice (102-03). As for the “passion” of the novel, I remind readers that Darcy first loves Elizabeth for the “‘liveliness of [her] mind,’” while Elizabeth comes to love Darcy after she feels “gratitude and esteem” for him (PP 380, 279). Spence’s “Works Cited” list does not include the Memoir. Nahmias-Radovici suggests that Lefroy was Austen’s romantic muse for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Walker supports the ideas independently presented by Spence and Nahmias-Radovici (whose work Spence also did not cite) that “the couple [Austen and Lefroy] had a longer relationship” and a more intense “bond” than hitherto believed (para. 1).
4. Walker questions some statements in my essay, which she calls in her “Works Cited” list “The Real Tom Lefroy” (the title of Helen Lefroy’s essay in The Jane Austen Society Report for 2003). For her querying my calling Mary Paul an “heiress,” see n. 7 of the NQ-essay, citing the DNB. Mary Paul, however, was not an heiress when she married Tom Lefroy—only after the death of her brother shortly after the marriage. For her querying my saying that Lefroy knew his future wife, Mary Paul “at least two years” before he met Austen, see this essay and n. 12, below. Having used Nahmias-Radovici’s book, Walker surprisingly did not question the same assertion made by its author.
5. For example, in Tom Jones, Jones’s London experiences lead him to his worst moral fall: becoming the kept man of the older Lady Bellaston (Bk. 13).
6. While Walker thinks that the brevity of Austen’s Cork-Street letter is based on her nervousness about being in the home (a “lion’s den” [para. 19]) of Langlois, from whom she desires the approval to be Tom’s beloved, the letter’s shortness can easily be accounted for by Austen’s being tired from a long day’s travel but still feeling compelled to scribble off a hasty note on the day of arrival—much as we make a quick phone call today in similar circumstances. As for Walker’s querying the three Austens’ attending Astley’s Circus that evening: the famous equestrian circus was undoubtedly far more exciting than anything available in Steventon. For the “lion’s den,” see n. 16, below.
7. After repeating to Cassandra the excerpt from Blackall’s letter where he mentions the Austen family, including his apology for being unable to visit, Austen writes, “This is rational enough; there is less love and more sense in it than sometimes appeared before, and I am very well satisfied. It will all go on exceedingly well, and decline away in a very reasonable manner.”
8. Langlois’s letters are replies to his nephew Colonel Lefroy (Tom’s father) and to the Rev. Dr. Burrowes regarding Tom’s progress at Trinity College.
9. While Tom was a brilliant student, we should not consider him a prodigy for entering college at such a young age; many a fine student had mastered the required Greek and Latin to gain college admission between 14 and 16 years of age. Recall in Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars’s telling Elinor, “‘I was not entered at Oxford till I was nineteen’” (362)—indicating that he enrolled at an unusually late age, though Lefroy’s having the linguistic knowledge to enter Trinity before fifteen is certainly a sign of his unusual intelligence and diligence.
10. Walker quotes some of these same phrases in her essay but does not analyze or apply them to Tom’s behavior when he was at Ashe and met Jane Austen.
11. Had the two Toms met at the end of their college careers, Lefroy’s meticulous biographer/son would have said so.
12. I am not alone in reasoning that Tom Lefroy met Mary Paul years prior to his meeting Austen. Nahmias-Radovici’s conclusion is similar to mine, though we reached those conclusions independently: “Since [Mary Paul] was the sister of [Tom Lefroy’s] College friend, Tom Paul, he must have known Mary for many years and he must have been sure that she would have been an affectionate wife and mother” (56-57, my italics). However, I strongly disagree with her assumption that when Tom, as a husband and father, wrote letters to his wife and children (reproduced later in the Memoir) that expressed his religiosity, such expressions resulted from his feeling guilty about his youthful treatment of Jane Austen and his trying “to avoid memories dear and painful, regrets and remorse to haunt his thoughts” (58). Nahmias-Radovici’s book contains no citations from earlier sections of the Memoir, where Tom’s strong religious principles as a youth are mentioned.
13. Austen’s writing in this same letter that Tom “is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon” reminds me of Mrs. Jennings’s teasing Elinor about names beginning with F (SS 125). Imagine Tom’s being as irritated as Elinor is. While Walker claims that “Tom was . . . behaving like a man interested in a woman [i.e., Jane Austen]” (para. 12), I suggest that woman was Mary Paul. Likewise, Walker suggests that the Lefroys’ teasing Tom “must have annoyed him for its accuracy” (para. 11). If my argument is logical, then Tom was annoyed by the teasing’s inaccuracy because the Ashe Lefroys were unaware of his plans to practice law in Ireland and to propose to Mary. Walker also says that Tom’s “reputation for conviviality does not fit with this image of a teased, shy boy.” Yet his “reputation for conviviality”—assumedly inferred from Benjamin Langlois’s mentioning Tom’s “winning” character in a letter to Tom’s father written when Tom was at college and from Tom’s tutor’s letter to Tom’s father speaking of his “pleasure . . . in Thomas’s society”—is based on Tom’s behavior at Trinity, a bastion of male camaraderie (Memoir 6, 13).
14. The comment is in Mary Mitford’s letter to Sir William Elford (3 April 1815). Mary Russell Mitford’s mother was Miss Mary Russell (1750-1830), daughter of the Rev. Richard Russell, rector of Ashe, just two miles from the Austens’ Steventon rectory, until his death in 1783. Upon her husband’s death, Mrs. Russell and her daughter, Mary, vacated the Ashe rectory and moved to Alresford (ten miles from Alton), Hampshire, where Mrs. Russell died in 1785, leaving her only surviving child, Miss Mary Russell, now thirty-five, heiress to the fortune left by her husband. Mary Russell soon married George Mitford in Alresford on October 17, 1785. Mary Russell Mitford was born to them two years later. By 1795/96, the Mitfords left Hampshire and moved to Surrey. Thus, Mrs. Mary Russell Mitford, the “mamma” to whom Miss Mary Russell Mitford refers, lived at Ashe until Jane Austen was eight and in the nearby Hampshire area until Austen was turning twenty (L’Estrange 1.88 and passim, 2.286).
15. J. A. P. Lefroy continues, “She was evidently attracted to Tom—but would she have married him? She says not [i.e., in her remarks in the first two letters, particularly in the second, where she writes, “At length the Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, & when you receive this it will be over—My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea” (14-15 January 1796)]—but we are left wondering whether she does not protest too much” (152). I was able to gain access to J. A. P. Lefroy’s essay only after my NQ-essay was published. I am glad to see that we agree on many points.
16. Clearly, then, Austen’s being an Englishwoman would have been moot, relative to Langlois’s 1763 anti-Irish remark. As for Langlois’s home being a “lion’s den” in April 1796, since Tom was likely not there, Austen would not have had to worry. That there are probably “Letter(s) missing” (Le Faye, Letters 5) after Austen’s brief letter of 23 August 1796 does not mean that she was writing about a meeting with Tom Lefroy. In the missing letters, Austen may have expressed her sadness at not seeing Tom, or at learning from Langlois that he had returned home to Ireland. We will never know, unless the missing letters miraculously appear.
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