Jane Austen's letter about 'Mr Darcy' lawyer goes on show
Jane Austen letter in which young author cries that she must ‘flirt her last’ with lawyer who may have been inspiration for Pride And Prejudice’s Mr Darcy goes on show for first time
- The missive was sent to her sister Cassandra when she was aged 20 in 1796
- It was written as her dalliance with Irishman Tom Lefroy was coming to an end
- Letter will be displayed at Austen’s former home in village of Chawton
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a risque letter from a famous author must be in search of an audience.
A now the letter in which a young Jane Austen laments that she is to ‘flirt her last’ with an Irish lawyer rumoured to be the inspiration for Mr Darcy is to go on display to the public for the first time.
The missive – the oldest known surviving letter penned by the author – was sent to her sister Cassandra when she was a 20-year-old ‘fun loving, party going bright young thing.’
It was written as her dalliance with Irishman Tom Lefroy was coming to an end and shortly before she started writing the manuscript that would become Pride and Prejudice.
Some have speculated that Mr Lefroy – or at least parts of his character – provided some degree of inspiration for the celebrated novel’s brooding hero who at first repulsed but then charmed heroine Lizzy Bennet.
The letter will be displayed for the first time at Austen’s former home in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, alongside a portrait of the lawyer as part of a new exhibition that opens today.
A letter in which a young Jane Austen laments that she is to ‘flirt her last’ with an Irish lawyer rumoured to be the inspiration for Mr Darcy is to go on display to the public for the first time. Above: Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth as Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy in the BBC’s famous 1995 adaptation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
The missive – the oldest known surviving letter penned by the author – was sent to her sister Cassandra when she was a 20-year-old ‘fun loving, party going bright young thing
It was written as her dalliance with Irishman Tom Lefroy (depicted above) was coming to an end and shortly before she started writing the manuscript that would become Pride and Prejudice
Written over two days in January 1796, the letter takes in Austen’s plans for an upcoming ball and some of the gentlemen she might meet there.
She writes: ‘I look forward with great impatience to it as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening.
‘I shall refuse him, however, unless he promises to give away his white Coat.
‘*Tell Mary that I make over Mr. Heartley & all his Estate to her for her sole use and Benefit in future, & not only him, but all my other Admirers into the bargain wherever she can find them, even the kiss which C. Powlett wanted to give me, as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr. Tom Lefroy, for whom I do not care sixpence*.
The following day she adds: ‘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.’
The letter – in particular this excerpt – has prompted huge debate over her relationship with her potential suitor.
The 2007 film Becoming Jane – starring Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy – was based on the idea it was a significant episode in the author’s life.
Jane Austen’s House Curator Sophie Reynolds explained: ‘The letter about the end of Austen’s flirtation with Mr Lefroy is one that Jane Austen fans will be very excited about.
The letter – in particular this excerpt – has prompted huge debate over her relationship with her potential suitor
‘It is the earliest surviving letter written by Austen. It’s a really fun letter, she’s young, she’s out partying, she’s a bright young thing.’
Ms Reynolds, however, said she does not believe the author was heartbroken.
‘This was a very tongue in cheek letter,’ she said. ‘She’s probably not really that upset about not seeing him again.
‘And yet the film Becoming Jane comes out of the idea that it was a pivotal relationship for her.’
She is also not convinced Pride and Prejudice’s characters reflect the couple’s dealings, either.
‘It’s so difficult to say if Lizzy Bennet is based on Austen herself,’ she said. ‘That’s the million dollar question.
‘There are elements of her character in the letter and there is evidence that she started writing Pride and Prejudice shortly afterwards.
‘I thnk elements of all writer’s lives can go into their works.’
The letter is to be displayed alongside a portrait of Mr Lefroy by George Engleheart, which is on loan from art collectors Judy and Brian Harden.
Ms Reynolds added : ‘We are very excited about having the letter and the portrait side by side. It gives us the opportunity to see the people she knew and the people that filled her world.
‘It’s a very striking portrait of the young man at around the age he would have been when Jane Austen knew him. He really stares into your eyes. He has very striking features.’
The two exhibitions, Jane Austen in Love and Jane Austen in London, will run from today through to March 5, 2023. Above: Rebecca Wood with costumes worn by Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy in the film Becoming Jane (2007)
The second letter to go on display reveals the details of everyday life in London, from shopping trips and visits to the theatre, to a hair appointment and a painful trip to the dentist.
Whilst the novelist lived in Hampshire for most of her life, she greatly enjoyed visiting London, where she revelled in the luxuries that a big city had to offer.
The letters are jointly owned with The Bodleian Libraries and are part of the Blavatnik-Honresfield Library, a collection of manuscripts, letters and printed books collected from the late 19th Century by industrialists William and Alfred Law.
The Library was saved for the nation in December last year following a successful campaign by the Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) who raised £15 million and then donated every manuscript and printed book to writers’ houses and libraries across the UK.
Ms Reynolds said: ‘I think these letters are very exciting for Jane Austen fans and all visitors.
‘You get something from the hand writing that you don’t get from a transcript.’
The two exhibitions, Jane Austen in Love and Jane Austen in London, will run from today through to March 5, 2023.
Costumes worn by Hathaway and McAvoy in the film will also be on display as part of the exhibition.
Jane Austen penned her most famous work – Pride and Prejudice – in 1813
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