Jane Austen’s ‘Mr. Darcy’ | Sunday Observer

Jane Austen’s ‘Mr. Darcy’

2 October, 2022

 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

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a risque letter from a famous author must be in search of an audience.

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 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 was 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.

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 Heartley and all his estate to her for her sole use and benefit in future, and 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 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, and 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 said: “The letter about the end of Austen’s flirtation with Mr Lefroy is one that Jane Austen fans will be very excited about.”

“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.”

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.’

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.”

-Daily Mail.uk