Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Jane Austen's Suitor: Tom Lefroy

Ever since watching Becoming Jane I've had this nagging question about the particulars of the relationship between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy. I must admit that when I began writing this article I was quite sure that all of the hype over their relationship was complete nonsense. After my research (articles linked below) I'm not as certain and perhaps have hit on a happy medium that is closer to the truth.

There were several questions which I asked. I hope that my other Janeite friends will enjoy traveling along with me as we find some answers to this mysterious Tom Lefroy.

Who was Tom Lefroy?
Thomas Langlois Lefroy was born January 8, 1776 (a month after Jane Austen's birth) in Ireland. Tom was the first boy born to Army officer Anthony-Peter Lefroy and his wife Anne Gardiner. Tom's four older sisters were Lucy, Phoebe, Catherine and Sarah (also a possible fifth sister died in infancy). His parents would go on to have six more children: Anthony, Elizabeth, Benjamin, Christopher, Anne and Henry. With such a large family the Lefroys were dependent on family, specifically on Tom's grandfather's in-laws the Langlois family who had purchased his father's commission in the Army in Ireland. It was Tom's great-uncle Benjamin Langlois who paid for his education at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. As the oldest son Tom was expected to rise through education and marry a rich wife, both of which he succeeded in doing.

What was Tom's personality?
'Great-uncle Benjamin describes him as having "everything in his temper and character that can conciliate affections. A good heart , a good mind, good sense and as little to correcting him as ever I saw in one of his age" (and great-uncle Benjamin had a sharp eye for things to correct in other people). Dr. Burrowes testified, "No young man has left our College with a higher character. Of his conduct in London, however seducing its idleness and its evils, you need not have the slightest doubt. He is, in his religious principles, in his desire of knowledge, in his just ambition, fortified in every place."' (quoted from Who Was The Real Thomas Lefroy?)
And Jane Austen told her sister Cassandra: "He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you."
These opinions from people who knew him are in stark contrast to the worldly Tom Lefroy portrayed in the film Becoming Jane. Also Tom was said to have had fair hair instead of dark hair.

How did Tom Lefroy & Jane Austen meet? 
In January 1796 Tom Lefroy, tired and ill from his hard studies at college, made a visit to his wealthy uncle George Lefroy, then rector of Ashe not too far from Steventon (where the Austen family lived). Tom's aunt Mrs. Lefroy was a great friend of the Austen ladies. It was while attending a balls in the neighborhood that Tom and Jane met and danced the night away. She must have written to her sister Cassandra, then absent from home, about the incidents because it seems (from her next letter written to Cassandra) that Jane had been scolded by her sister about their very "particular" behavior.

"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. I can expose myself, however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. But as to our having ever met, except at these last three balls, I cannot say much; for he is so excessively laughed at about me at Ashe, that he is ashamed of coming to Steventon, and ran away when we called on Mrs. Lefroy a few days ago. ... After I had written the above, we received a visit from Mr. Tom Lefroy and his cousin George. The latter is well behaved now; and as for the other, he has but one fault, which time will, I trust, entirely remove—it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light. He is a great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore wears the same colored clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded. ..." - Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, Saturday, January 10, 1796

Were the couple really in love?
From all the articles I've read online it's difficult to say whether she and Tom Lefroy were really in love or not. It seems that Jane Austen's family maintained that he used her ill and Tom's family maintained that she chased after him. What was the truth of their feelings for each other?

Jane Austen: Only three letters mentioning Tom Lefroy were saved. Five days after telling Cassandra how she and her "Irish friend" behaved she writes: "...Our party to Ashe to-morrow night will consist of Edward Cooper, James (for a ball is nothing without him), Buller, who is now staying with us, & I—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. Friday.—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 this, at this melancholy idea. [She makes over all her other admirers to a friend] "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 don't care sixpence." ..." (Thursday, January 14 - Friday, January 15, 1796)
In these letters, as in most of her letters, Jane's signature satirical wit predominates. Whether deeper feelings of disappointed love lie behind those words is somewhat hard to say. Though she jokes that she will refuse him based on the color of his morning coat perhaps she did care more than "sixpence" for him. Jane was not so upset as to keep her from writing though, she began a draft of Pride and Prejudice that same year.

Tom Lefroy: One article I read suggests that Tom may have already had an understanding with the sister of a dear school friend who he became engaged to a year later and eventually married. It seems Tom liked Jane a great deal, their behavior at balls was much talked about and Tom was laughed at because of it. He did call and he and Jane did discuss the book Tom Jones. But whether he liked Jane he didn't make an offer of marriage.
He would visit his uncle at Ashe Rectory briefly three years later but would not see Jane Austen on this visit. Whether he chose not to see her or was kept away by family is unclear. The Austen family had heard that he was in the country and after his aunt Mrs. Lefroy visited them Jane told Cassandra: "...of her nephew she said nothing at all, and of her friend very little. She did not once mention the name of the former to me, and I was too proud to make any inquiries; but on my father's afterwards asking where he was, I learnt that he was gone back to London in his way to Ireland, where he is called to the Bar and means to practise." Three months later Tom would marry Mary Paul who he had been engaged to for almost two years.
They both seem to have had a friendly interest in each other which carried into later life. After Jane Austen's death Tom Lefroy would travel from Ireland to England to pay his respects. Years later when publishers Cadell & Davies went out of buisness Tom would buy at an auction a letter of refusal to Mr. Austen who had sent one of Jane's manuscripts to them.
And the year after his death a nephew would write to Jane Austen's nephew Jame Edward Austen Leigh and say "My late venerable uncle ... said in so many words that he was in love with her, although he qualified his confession by saying it was a boyish love."

We know what happened to Jane Austen but what happened to Tom Lefroy?
Tom stayed with his great-uncle Benjamin Langlois in London and studied law and was called to read for the Irish Bar in 1797 at which time he asked for the hand of Mary Paul and they became engaged. Mary's family lived in a part of Ireland that was effected by outbreak of the Insurrection of 1798 so her father moved their family to South Wales where she and Tom were married in1799. Tom & Mary went to live in Dublin, Ireland where her began to practice at the Irish Bar. Family tragedy struck a year or two after when Mary's brother Thomas Paul, Tom's dear school friend, suddenly died. Mary now became heiress to the Paul estates, a position which she never expected because her brother was strong, robust and expected to marry and father many children. Tom quickly became prominent in the Irish Bar and in 1810 he bought his own estate CarrigGlas where he had a rambling Gothic house built. Tom served as a Member of Parliament for the constituency of Dublin University 1830–1841, as Privy Councillor of Ireland 1835–1869 and as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland 1852–1866. Tom and Mary had eight children: Anthony, Jane, Anne, Thomas Paul, Jeffry, George, Benjamin (died in infancy) and Mary Elizabeth. Most of his sons followed him in study of the law, his daughters never married. Tom Lefroy lived a full life and died Mary 4, 1869 at the ripe old age of 93.

Did Tom Lefroy actually name his daughter after Jane Austen?
At the end of Becoming Jane it is implied that Tom Lefroy named his oldest daughter after Jane Austen, but this is not known as fact.
Tom Lefroy married Mary Paul in March, 1799 and in all they had eight children. His second daughter Jane Christmas Lefroy was born June 24, 1802. Most likely Jane Lefroy was christened after her maternal grandmother Lady Jane Paul rather than Jane Austen.

Tom Lefroy - A Man of Faith
The Lefroy family were Hugenots, French Protestants who fled to England in 1587 because of religious persecution. Most of my interest in Tom Lefroy sprung from reading quotes from Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy (published 1871 by his son Thomas Paul Lefroy) which are occasionally posted at Becoming Jane Fansite blog. While reading these quotes I am continually amazed by the fervency of Tom Lefroy's faith.

I'd like to share just a few of those quotes I greatly admired:

From The Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy p 241, addressed by Tom Lefroy to his wife (Mary Paul):
"Carrig-glas, March 31, 1846
Here I am again, thanks be to our gracious Lord, who has been with me at my going forth and my returning, and followed me all the way with His mercy and goodness. Oh, how we ought to desire not to be left to ourselves." - (source)

Here's a small excerpt from a letter to his wife found in the "Memoir of Chief Justice Lefroy." The letter begins on page 28 where we find this report of his studies while traveling by coach:
"I read over and compared most part of the Epistle to the Romans, with all those to the Galatians and the Ephesians, and part of those to the Corinthians; every time I read and compare them new light breaks in, and I am determined I will work on without note or comment endeavouring to make out the meaning for myself, which I should think may be done by patience and attention." (source)

The following was written in 1852 (Tom was 76 years old) in a letter to his wife:
"Amidst all the gossiping rumours of the last few days these sweet words have kept my mind very quiet 'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you : not as the world giveth, give I unto you - let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.' I cannot delay but a moment longer, except to send my love to all the dear ones around you." The quote within the quote is taken from the bible - John 14:27. (source)

Tom Lefroy's writes to his son Jeffry about reaching his 90th birthday:
Leeson Street, Jan. 9th, 1866
My Dearest Jeffry, - I have just received the congratulations of yourself, and your dear companions on God’s wonderful mercy in permitting me to see the ninetieth anniversary of my birth-day. It fills my heart with joy and thankfulness of no ordinary degree, when I find those I love ascribing praise for all our family mercies, to Him to whom all praise is due. I think I cannot do better in return than pray that the blessing which old Jacob gave to his loved son Joseph, may rest on my dear Jeffry, and his no less dear wife, who may well claim to be “a fruitful bough, and even a fruitful bough by a well.”
“May the God of thy fathers keep thee, may He bless thee with the blessings of heaven above, and bless thy progeny to the utmost bounds of the Everlasting Hills.” With fondest love from all the dear ones around me to you and yours, T.L." (source)

My Thoughts: It does seem that Mr. Tom Lefroy was just the sort of charming young man to attract Miss Austen's notice but that both would have known any attachment between them was doomed from the start. Jane might have liked him well enough to be quite disappointed but it does not seem that she suffered for very long. Tom Lefroy was a man of faith who was quite worthy of our Miss Austen's attention and even love. Perhaps Tom did love her in a boyish way but just three years later he was married and quite devoted to his dear wife Mary. There was a kind regard between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy to be sure and no doubt he turned up from time to time, perhaps unawares, in one or other of her novels.

Other articles I read for this post:

I hope you have enjoyed traveling with me as I researched some answers to these intriguing questions! I encourage you to read the articles listed above, they were of enormous help to me in putting together this article.

Do you think Tom Lefroy shows up in any of Jane Austen's novels? Which character would he be? 


Miss Dashwood said...

What a fascinating post! Thank you so much for sharing this: your research must have taken a long time.
Personally, I do indeed think that one of Jane Austen's characters was modeled rather closely after Tom Lefroy... but I shan't tell you who. Hopefully I'll post about that today or tomorrow. :)

Stephanie said...

Thank you so much for writing this! I am disappointed that the writers of "Becoming Jane" felt the need to make Mr. LeFroy a worldly man.
However, despite the dark hair, James McAvoy looks remarkably like him. I am very glad it seems that they didn't fall to deeply in love, for I never liked sad endings and didn't care for the movie because of it.

Risa said...

To me this was an extremely informative post. I really like the detail you've gone into, and the pains you've taken to understand the relationship between Austen and Lefroy. Personally, my knowledge on the whole thing, at best, was vague.

And based on your info on Lefroy I can't help but think of Henry Tilney. I suspect he comes closest to Lefroy. However, as I haven't read Mansfield Park as yet, my answer isn't completely informed.

Old-Fashioned Father said...

Splendid research, Miss Laurie! Made for both a good read and a good argument.

Queen Nellie said...

Personally, I thought that Tom reminded me of Edward Farris ( already has an understanding with a young lady, meets Jane, falls in love but can’t make her an offer be3cause he already has an understanding. The difference is, in S&S they have a happy ending), I'm not saying that all the particulars are correct, but considering that if Jane did love him, it may very well seemed rather like it, and her lively imagination supplied the rest.
Also a thing that I noticed was that Toms mothers maiden name was Gardener (think P&P, Aunt and Uncle Gardener)
- Queen Nellie

Rachel said...


I co-manage the Becoming Jane Fansite and I just found this Tom Lefroy post - how excellent.
I am planning to use one of the pictures if thats okay for my latest post, referencing this blog of course.

Miss Laurie of Old-Fashioned Charm said...

Of course, that's fine. I look forward to reading your post! :)

Anonymous said...

I think that he is Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. Think about it. Jane Bennet met Mr. Bingley at a ball... they have similar personalities... they had a preference for each other when they danced... and then they were torn apart and never would have seen each other again if not for Darcy and Elizabeth. She also started writng Pride and Prejudice the year she met him. Even if she didn't mean to write him in, he is there.

Anonymous said...

Whatever relationship Jane Austen had with Tom Lefroy had no influence on the novels. The story about Tom Lefroy has been exaggerated in order to explain away how a woman with no experience of sex or marriage could write the novels of Jane Austen. It is of course obvious that the novels were written by someone with experience of love and marriage. As I show in my recently published book "Jane Austen - a New Revelation" the novels of Jane Austen were written by her cousin Eliza de Feuillide. She could not publish them under her own name as she was the secret illegitimate daughter of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India. Eliza was married twice: the first marriage was a marriage of convenience to a French Count, the second a love marriage to Henry Austen. Pride and Prejudice was based on a trip made by Eliza de Feuillide to Derbyshire in 1794, the year in which the novel was originally set. During this time Eliza was courting her future husband Henry after the death by guillotine of her first husband, which perhaps explains the happiness and romantic feeling of the novel.

Sarah said...

I can see where the idea of Mr. Willoughby comes from... a man who is foolishly in love with a young attractive woman but who can not marry her for he is expected to marry rich... i keep thinking that Jane Austen splits her inner fight between sense and sensebility in Eleanor and Marianne...

Unknown said...

Wonderful idea...

Unknown said...

I have read her letters over and over. Such a shame most correspondence with Cassandra was destroyed. I believe it is very telling that Cassandra preserved these. The fact that Jane was 'too proud' to make inquiries of even her great friend Madame Lefroy, shows what a great feeling she had for Mr. Lefroy, which was unacceptable because of her poverty. A terrible social predicament she was in- she was vitally interested in news about him, and had to obtain it by ease dropping...would not 'expose'her real feelings and interest. I believe this wounded her very much since her pride supported her in not demeaning herself to inquire where she wasn't approved...

Unknown said...

I indeed think that Mr. Lafroy was in love with Jane. He named his other two daughters Mary and Elizabeth. The two Bennett sister's from Pride and Prejudice. We all have a long lost love.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Tom Lefroy's first daughter was named after Jane Austen, who he loved. I know some believe that it was after her maternal grandmother and it very well could have just been more of a way for Tom to hide the truth. However, her middle name Christmas makes me believe it was after JA simply because they first met while TL was on Christmas break.

Unknown said...

Ohh what a nice story behind the novel,
Thankx for share with us,and I really need it
My point of view is that darcD playing a Tom role cause in this novel he engaged his aunt's daughter,it it another thing he didn't marry with her

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