Jane Austen’s Letter About Her Own ‘Mr Darcy’ on Display at Author’s Home | Jane Austen

A letter from a young Jane Austen in which she confides that she is to “flirt her last” with a dashing Irish lawyer considered by some romantics to have inspired one of her most famous characters, Mr. Darcy, must be shown in public for the first time. time.

The missive, Austen’s oldest known letter, was sent to her sister Cassandra when the author was a fun-loving 20-year-old about to write the story that became Pride and Prejudice.

In the letter, written over two days in January 1796, Austen describes her excitement for an upcoming ball and some of the people she was to meet there, including Irish lawyer Tom Lefroy.

“My tears flow as I write”… Letter from Austen to her sister Cassandra, written in 1796. Photography: Jordan Pettitt/Solent News & Photo Agency

At one point she mentions Lefroy and says, clearly lightheartedly, that she doesn’t “care about sixpence” for him. She picks up her pen the next day and adds: “Finally the day has come when I have to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy & when you receive this it will be over – My tears are flowing as I write, at the melancholy thought. Again, she seems playful rather than genuinely heartbroken.

There has long been speculation that Lefroy – at least in part – inspired Mr. Darcy, and the romance (if that’s what it was) between the two was the subject of the 2007 film Becoming Jane, with Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy.

The letter is on display at Austen’s former home in the village of Chawton, Hants, alongside a portrait of Lefroy as part of an exhibition which opens on Thursday titled Jane Austen in Love. Costumes worn by Hathaway and McAvoy in the film will also be on display.

Sophie Reynolds, Curator of Jane Austen’s House, said: “The letter about the end of Austen’s flirtation with Mr. Lefroy is one that will delight Jane Austen fans. She’s young, she parties, she’s a bright young girl. His writing is great, enthusiastic, it pours out. It’s a bright, bubbly letter that could have been written by Lizzy Bennet herself.

Reynolds said that unlike Darcy, Lefroy was poor, although he married a wealthy young woman. But she said she understands why people make the connection between Lefroy and Darcy.

“Everyone wants to know who inspired each character, but it’s more complicated than that. She would have drawn on many inspirations and created characters from scratch.

“We are delighted to have the letter and the portrait side by side. It gives us the opportunity to see the people she knew and the people who filled her world.

“It’s a very striking portrait of the young man around the age he would have been when Jane Austen knew him. He really looks you in the eye. He has very striking features.

A letter written by Austen in 1813 is also on display in a sister exhibition titled Jane Austen in London. It reveals details of daily life in the capital, from shopping sprees and visits to the theatre, to a hairdresser appointment and a painful visit to the dentist. The writing is smaller, the words more composed.

The letters were jointly acquired by Jane Austen’s housewhere the writer lived the last eight years of his life, and Bodleian Libraries. Both exhibitions run until March 5, 2023.

Lola R. McClure