Jane austins guide to dating
In a third letter, written two years later, Jane describes being "too proud to make any enquiries" about Lefroy, but the letter refers more directly to Jane's fondness for "ragout veal" than to her fondness for Tom.
Spence was up against a familiar problem: Literary biographers who set out to establish how Austen's novels arise from her personal experience have long been handicapped by the scarcity of source material. Austen's first biographer, her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh, began his 1870 book, discouragingly, with the claim "Of events her life was singularly barren" and neglected to mention even the marriage proposal—from a certain Harris Biggs-Wither—that she did receive and reject in 1802.
But, by and large, it is Austen the expert on courtship rites who dominates contemporary popular culture.
It is this Austen who is emulated by authors of middlebrow women's fiction, from Helen Fielding (who wrote indicates, we have to imagine Austen as Elizabeth Bennet and grant her a Darcy of her own—even if in the end we take him away again.
And he is careful, as the filmmakers are not, to clarify that in speculating about Austen's romantic experience he is reading between the lines of the family records and of the three rather opaque Austen letters that are his principal sources.
Other scholars have been more skeptical than Spence about whether this pair were ever "a couple." They see a flirtation that terminated without fuss when Tom ended his visit to relations in the Hampshire countryside where Jane lived and returned to the London law courts.
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The film's penultimate sequence envisions Austen and Lefroy headed in a stagecoach toward a clandestine wedding in Gretna Green, Scotland—the 18-century equivalent of Las Vegas.
In the book, Spence does identify Tom Lefroy as the love of Austen's life and her relationship with him as the origin of her genius.
But he never suggests that there was an aborted elopement (much less subsequent reading sessions with any of Lefroy's children).
But while making these reports she also seems to be observing herself from the outside—presenting herself, with a certain cool mockery, as a heroine in one of the sentimental novels that in her teenaged writing she loved to parody.
"Imagine to yourself," she writes, "everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together." In a second letter, written six days later, she declares: The "Day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy. My tears flow as I write, at the melancholy idea." It's worth noting that these sentences are all but buried amid chitchat about the weather and housekeeping.