At length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea. Wm. Chute called here yesterday. I wonder what he means by being so civil. There is a report that Tom is going to be married to a Lichfield lass. Letter to Cassandra Austen, 16 January 1796, The Letters of Jane Austen
With this year’s release of the major motion picture Becoming Jane, Jane Austen’s love life, or more specifically the love life that others might wish that she had, has brought her relationship with her suitor Tom Lefroy under very close scrutiny. And so, I am touched by this passage in a letter to her sister Cassandra during Austen and Lefroy’s brief time together in Hampshire. She has received a rumor of his impending marriage, and with suspicious brevity, states that she will flirt with him no more. Is she protecting herself, letting go or being sarcastic?
The movie screenplay was based on the biography by Jon Spence, Becoming Jane Austen, and even though Mr. Spence presented new evidence to support his claim of a deeper involvement between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, the movie producers chose to push the story from what had been historically believed as a serious flirtation into a romantic dalliance. Lately, much has been discussed of the truth behind the romance, and this passage in the letter eludes to her deep regret at the loss of the possibility. Unfortunately, from the details in surviving letters and family stories, we may never know the complete truth.
If you are curious about the possible romance between Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen, you can purchase the DVD of Becoming Jane which will be available in the US on 12 February 2008. The screenplay is a hopeful and fanciful notion, and one which I view as a melancholy idea.
*Portrait of Thomas (Tom) Langlois Lefroy (1776-1869) circa 1800
I would retitle the movie as “Much Ado About Very Little.” Jane might have had a major crush on Tom, but both she and Tom were aware of their family obligations. Most of us have experienced young love that we recall fondly. The idea that Jane’s short, youthful affair inspired her to greatness is ludicrous. This notion discounts the enormous influence of her supportive family over a short and minor dalliance.