“At length 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” Jane Austen Letter to Cassandra Austen, 16 January 1796, The Letters of Jane Austen
My Dear Miss Austen,
Our tears flow too dear Jane. A tornado has hit the gentle shores of your Austenland, and it’s not a pretty sight. We would be remiss if we did not mention that they are at it again; – the ladies and gentleman of the press; – yes – they are claiming that your youthful flirtation with Tom Lefroy inspired you to create your character Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice! Sigh.
It appears that the day has not yet come on which the press is to flirt thier last with Tom Lefroy. Just when we thought that the brouhaha created by last year’s wobbly bio-pic of your youth, Becoming Jane, had settled down a bit, the present owners of a miniature portrait of your ‘puppy love’ Mr. Lefroy have offered it for sale at the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair, June 12th to 18th, in London. The online news agencies have been aflutter with the news my dear Jane, and I fear the gossip is less than kind.
- THE real-life inspiration for TV sexbomb Mr Darcy has been revealed – as a skinny GEEK, The Sun
- Austen’s Real-life Mr. Darcy a Frail Wimp, NineMSN
- Jane Austen’s real Mr. Darcy had Girlish Looks, The Telegraph
- The Real Mr. Darcy is no Colin Firth, UPI Entertainment News
Some poor misguide souls have even gone so far as to claim that Mr. Lefroy looks like a “skinny geek“, “a pale wimp“, “limp lettuce“, “and a wispy-haired girlie, who looks so delicate that he might even weigh less than Elizabeth Bennet.”
James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy in Becoming Jane 2007
Oh my! We are pale and limp just from reading those disparaging remarks. Our heartfelt apologies if this news pains you. We understand that you did love him once, for a short time, and he ditched you because you were both poor, and his family objected to the match. That behavior does not sound like the Mr. Darcy that we read of in your beloved novel Pride and Prejudice. In fact, personally we can find little similarity between Mr. Lefroy and Mr. Darcy, and would like to attempt to rebuke this preposterous assumption with a few points against the notion on your behalf.
- Tom Lefroy was an impoverished law student dependent on his family to support him through his education, who in turn expected a return on their investment through his career and accomplishments. Mr. Darcy was the heir to the great estate of Pemberley with an income of £10,000 a year. He was under no ones jurisdiction but his own, and that of his King.
- Tom Lefroy was chatty and flirty with Miss Austen, dancing repeatedly with her and causing local gossip. Mr. Darcy was reserved and aloof, and would not dance with the heroine Eliabeth Bennet because she was not handsome enough to tempt him. He did change his mind later on though, but that was to his credit we are sure.
- Tom Lefroy was obliged to his family to marry well to support his five older sisters and widowed mother. Even if he was in love with Miss Austen, and please forgive me for being so blunt, she was a poor clergyman’s daughter and did not meet his families requirements. He later married an heiress fulfilling his family obligation. Mr. Darcy could marry for love alone, and did. That bit of creativity we can definetly give Miss Austen credit for!
Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice 1995
We think that the watercolour painting is quite lovely, and we understand that it was painted in 1798 by the eminent English miniaturist George Engleheart. The image of Mr. Lefroy does look a bit pale, but as you know, it is quite indicative of the style and fashion of miniatures during Regency times. It does not, in fact, look like actor Colin Firth, who so aptly portrayed your Mr. Darcy in the 1995 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. Quite frankly, we believe that is what all the hoopla is about. We are not a literary scholar, so please forgive our humble explanation here, but we would like to believe that you were bright enough to create Mr. Darcy from your own imagination, and not from a personal experience that may or may not have happened.
An Austen Aside: Even though all this publicity over the Tom Lefroy’s painting is unfavourable to Jane Austen’s public image, we owe a debt of gratitude to Gloucestershire art dealers Judy and Brian Harden who are selling the painting. They are specialist in miniature pantings of this era and had bought the portrait at auction some time ago without knowing of its significance in Jane Austen’s life.
“We didn’t know who Tom Lefroy was when we bought it – it went through the auction house unrecognised – but we were able to identify and discover the history of the sitter,’ Mr Harden said.” Daily Mail
Through their research, they discovered Mr. Lefroy’s family history, which must have been quite a red letter day for two dedicated art dealers; an Indiana Jones moment in the art world really! Another buyer might have squirreled the painting away into oblivion. I do not begruge them one pence of the £50,000 asking price. It is well worth it. Let us hope that the new owner will be a library or museum that will exhibit the portrait properly, and that it will not be lost again into a private collection.
What a wonderful and thoughtful letter, Laurel Ann. Thank you for sharing it
Sounds more like Willoughby to me. When reading P&P, I always think JA had little real experience with men/love when she wrote it (Elizabeth – or anyone else, for that matter – not recognizing Darcy’s attraction and subsequent surprise at his proposal of marriage). I still think it’s brilliant.
Did not JA say in one of her letters that she expected an offer from Lefroy … if he would give up his detested coat?
Sorry if you’ve already covered all this!