Saturday, December 17, 2011

Miss Austen's Romances

My dear blogging friend Melody has kindly agreed to write a guest post about Jane Austen's love life (how shocking!) and we collaborated to write questions, so that it is a sort of interview.  I helped with the questions, but the brilliant answers are all her own.  Enjoy!

~Do you think that Jane Austen drew her heroes from real life, or from her brilliant imagination?
While I think it could be some of both, I’d definitely say on the side of her brilliant imagination. I think perhaps she drew a few characteristic, etc. to get her started from real life, but on the whole, she made up all her characters herself.

~Who do you think was her favorite of her heroes, and why?
I think Mr. Knightley was her favorite, because I read it somewhere. And it seems quite likely, too; he has the qualities which I think she would admire.

~About Tom Lefroy... what is your opinion of him?  Were he and Jane ever really engaged?
    I’ve never had much patience with Tom Lefroy and all these suspicions. In this case, I think her relationship with him was only what appeared in, say, her letters to Cassandra, and what other people said. I don’t think there is anything between the lines to be read.
About Tom himself, I don’t have a very high opinion of him, if things were at all serious between he and Jane, because I could never forgive him for marrying someone else just because his family told him to. But if what I think is right, and it was only a “brief flirtation,” I’d probably respect the fellow well enough.
    I do not think Tom and Jane were ever engaged. In her letters, Jane said that she rather expected a proposal from him; I think she was rather joking, and trying, perhaps, to egg on her sister who rather scolded her for her flirtatious behavior. Jane said she would only accept him if he promised to give away his white coat. I think that, even at her young age of 20, she would acted more serious about the matter if she was in earnest. But then there seems to usually be an element of truth in joking. I’m not unwilling to believe that at the time, in the early emotions of a relationship, she did expect something to come of it. But of an engagement, I am extremely wary.

~Has Hollywood made too much of the whole "Jane and Tom" thing?
   Hollywood, as in Becoming Jane? Yes, I certainly think they have. I haven’t seen this movie myself, but I know the general plot. I certainly don’t think that Tom Lefroy was her true love, and she never would have eloped with him. I think they picked up an idea and ran away with it, as Emma said Mrs. Weston did with her Jane Fairfax and Mr. Knightley idea.
  The only thing I like about that movie is its soundtrack, which I wish the movie equaled. *Hums The Basingstoke Assembly*

~If Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy had gotten married, how do you think this would have affected her career as a writer? 
   I don’t personally think that Jane and Tom would ever have married. I think that if they knew each other for longer, they would find they weren’t right for each other. This is just my own little fancy, of course.
   How it would have affected her career depends almost entirely on the gentleman, I think. If he was a great supporter of her writing and was willing to let her leave her household duties for a while when needed, and didn’t mind the thought of his wife being successful in a field that men generally occupied, we may still have been able to read some of those beloved novels; but I suspect not as many and perhaps not the same. “Pride and Prejudice by Jane Lefroy”? That just doesn’t sound right.
   Though sad, I think it’s much better for us Janeites that she never did marry and could devote her time to writing.

~Was Jane Austen happy to be single, or do you think she still wanted a husband, even throughout her years of success in writing?
   I think Jane Austen was content to be single, but not really happy. She loved her life with her sister and her writing; like Emma, she always had an abundance of nieces and nephews so as not to miss having her own children excessively.
   Here’s what I think: In her earlier years, Jane thought like any other young lady, that eventual marriage was just a matter of course. As time passed and the right man never came, she gave up an expectation of ever marrying, and decided it was all right to be an old maid with her sister, although unlike Cassandra, didn’t decide against matrimony in general. (I like to imagine that, having already invented some wonderful heroes & romances, she would settle for nothing less.) In her later 30s, her prosperous time as an authoress, I believe she really did view her books as her “own dear children,” and felt satisfied that she accomplished that much at least. I think her occupation in writing kept her from disappointment. In her last months, when she was too weak to write, I think she must have felt some sadness or emptiness at never having a husband and a household & family of her own.

What do you think about Harris Bigg-Wither and his offer of marriage? What were Jane's reasons for accepting and then refusing them, and did she ever regret her refusal?
  Harris Bigg-Wither’s proposal was rather extraordinary in that Jane was five years older than himself. He was looking for a wife, and she was a friend of his family; well-liked by them all.
  I think Jane accepted Harris at first for a few reasons; the most important being, family duty. If she married into this wealthy family, herself, her mother, and her sister would be secured comfort for the rest of their lives. She perhaps considered that this might be her only chance at marriage, a house of her own, a family; and she didn’t want to miss it. She was also very attached to the Bigg sisters; it must have sounded very agreeable to her to have them as sisters-in-law.
  In truth I always enjoy the story of Harris and Jane. I think it is one of the few things that we know about to determine Jane Austen’s life and character. Because of the reasons I mentioned above, she accepted a marriage proposal in the evening; but what a night she must have had! To be joined, for the rest of her life, to a man she did not love: not even a little. I’m not sure she even liked him. Perhaps she did, perhaps not; but she could never care for him in that way. Was it worth all the advantages to be stuck in a potentially unhappy situation always? I like to think that she remembered her writing; the offers of marriage her heroines received and refused. If they could do it, so could she. Maybe she couldn’t write a happy ending for herself, but she could determine not to marry a man she didn’t love, even if it was the most difficult thing she ever did. Imagine making a promise, everyone delighted – and then changing one’s mind by the morning. This would not be smiled upon.
  Perhaps she used this circumstance later when she wrote Pride and Prejudice. Maybe Charlotte Lucas’ opinion on matrimony is what she at first talked herself into; Elizabeth Bennet’s is what she really thought and then acted upon.
  I do not think Jane regretted her decision. After all, her books were written or revised after that circumstance; they all discourage marrying without love. “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection,” she tells her niece Fanny later in life. This sounds strikingly like something Jane said to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice: “Do anything rather than marry without affection.” I think it is quite obvious that, while she may have regretted the outcome of things, she never wished she could go back and marry Harris.

~Did Jane Austen ever find true love? Do you think her story didn't stop at Tom and Harris?
   Every Jane Austen bio-fic – whether book or movie – that I’ve come in contact with decides that Jane needs another proposal than just the one from Harris. Even Just Jane, which in general stuck pretty close to her life, created one other man who proposed to Jane. Miss Austen Regrets, which I just watched, also did; in fact it was a main element of the movie. I find this rather annoying.
   I, like most Janeites I think, like to imagine that Jane was really in love at some point or other. As you might guess from reading the above, however, I don’t think Tom Lefroy was the one. I am a firm believer in the Mysterious Seaside Romance.
   Do you know to what I am referring? In case you don’t, I’ll explain it.
   Sometime in the early 1800s, Jane traveled to the seaside, where Cassandra Austen later tells a niece of theirs, that she met someone – a clergyman, I’ve read. Cassandra said he was the only man Jane ever really loved. If it is true that Cassandra said that, then I believe it, because she was Jane’s closest confidante.
   The sad thing is, after agreeing to meet again a few months later, he died suddenly. I don’t remember whether it is known how; but isn’t that such a tragically romantic story?
  The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, which I read earlier this year, is all about the seaside romance; except the author imagines that she knew this man much longer, was even engaged to him, and he did not die; instead he was pretty much forced to marry someone else to save his family from ruin. It was nice and tragic; but I think I’d still prefer him to die.
   It didn’t just have that, though. She received one or two other offers of marriage in the book; one of them from a Mr. Collins-based character.
   I find the seaside romance more likely, myself, than Jane ever having been serious with Tom, or another circumstance for which information is nonexistent. It seems like the right amount of information is known about it to have been true; I think the Austens would have tried to keep something that was more serious quiet. I also think it’s more likely that Cassandra would have burned Jane’s letters mentioning Tom if it had been important, because it would have been too personal.

But I cannot end this post without saying…
Happy Birthday, Jane Austen! Thank you for adding so much spice to our lives.

And thank you, Miss Dashwood, for giving me this delightful opportunity! I’ll have to have you guest post on my blog some time or other!

Regency Delight (


Melody said...

(In which the guest poster subscribes to comments so that she may see if anyone chuses to remark upon this post.)

Miss Dashwood said...

In which the owner of the blog heartily congratulates the author of the post on her lovely post, and enjoys rereading it all over again. "Maybe she couldn’t write a happy ending for herself, but she could determine not to marry a man she didn’t love, even if it was the most difficult thing she ever did." Loved that!

Melody said...

Thank you for your very esteemed opinion, my dear Miss Dashwood. I am glad you liked it.

Anonymous said...

I share your scepticism about the supposed love affair with Tom Lefroy and I suspect this has been deliberately exaggerated to try to find some kind of love life for Jane Austen. This is because it is obvious from the novels that the author had extensive experience of love and marriage.
As I show in my recently published book "Jane Austen - a New Revelation" the novels were not written by Jane Austen but by her cousin Eliza de Feuillide. Eliza could not publish them under her own name, as she was the secret illegitimate daughter of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India.

You will be pleased to know that Eliza had a very interesting love life. Her first marriage was a marriage of convenience to a French Count, during which she flirted with her cousins Henry and James Austen. With the Count she had one son, who unfortunately suffered from a mental impairment and died young. She was fortunate to get the chance to marry for love after her first husband was guillotined during the French Revolution in 1794. After this she was chased by her cousins James and Henry and eventually married Henry Austen in 1797.