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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Jane Austen’s Love Mystery: Part 4

4. Edward Bridges

To this day, mystery surrounds Jane’s relationship with Edward Bridges. You may have seen him as one of Jane’s persistent suitors in Miss Austen Regrets, but in actual fact there is very little that we know about the nature of their relationship.

Mr Bridges played by Hugh Bonneville in Miss Austen Regrets.

Image from

The Reverend Brook Edward Bridges of Goodnestone Farm was Jane’s brother, Edward’s brother-in-law. Son of a baronet, he became a clergyman like his other brothers. Jane became familiar with Edward during her visits to Godmersham in the mid-1790’s and seemed to enjoy his company.

During a visit in 1805, Jane noticed that Edward was being particularly attentive to her. She wrote to Cassandra, "We could not begin dinner till six. We were agreeably surprised by Edward Bridges's company to it. . . . It is impossible to do justice to the hospitality of his attentions towards me; he made a point of ordering toasted cheese for supper entirely on my account". As I wrote before, toasted cheese was a favourite supper of Jane Austen’s.

A few years later, in 1808, Jane wrote to Cassandra from Godmersham, “[Lady Bridges’] son Edward was also looking very well, & with manners as un-altered as hers". In another letter written later that year, Jane mentioned an “invitation” that Edward had made to her: “I wish you may be able to accept Lady Bridges's invitation, though I could not her son Edward's”.

Now whatever this invitation may be, remains a mystery to us. Biographers Deirdre La Faye and the flighty Jon Spence certainly seem convinced that Edward proposed to Jane in 1808 and was politely rejected. If his proposal was indeed turned down, there seems to have been no hard feelings on either side, as the friendship continued after that. When Edward became engaged to Harriet Foote later in the same year, she wished him well.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jane Austen’s Love Mystery: Part 3

3. Harris Bigg-Wither

The story of Harris Bigg-Wither’s proposal to Jane must have baffled her biographers for years. What made Jane Austen accept an offer of marriage and then turn it down overnight?

File:Harris Bigg-Wither.jpg

Harris Bigg-Wither. Image from Wikipedia.

In December 1802, Jane and Cassandra were invited to stay with their friends, the Bigg sisters, at Manydown Park. Alethea and Catherine Bigg were childhood friends of the Austen children and Jane and Cassandra enjoyed staying with them. Their brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, was heir to the Manydown estate, and Jane remembered him from her childhood as being a plain and awkward boy with a stammer. He had by now grown somewhat more confident and was of a good height.

On the eve of 2 December, Harris proposed to Jane and was accepted. She was fond of him, liked the family, and was comfortable at Manydown, being so close to Steventon. Everyone rejoiced and celebrated the engagement that evening. However, Jane must have spent the night going over her decision, considering the fact that Harris was 6 years younger than her, she was not attracted to him, and that she could not be happy being married to someone she didn’t love. She explained her change of heart to Harris in the morning, and asked her brother James to take her and Cassandra back to Steventon immediately and from there on home to Bath.

The situation must have been awkward for both the families, but fortunately the Austen and the Bigg sisters’ friendship was not affected by it. Later, though, Caroline Austen asked Jane’s biographer, James Edward Austen-Leigh, not to mention the event in his memoirs, as it would have caused embarrassment to the family.

No doubt, Jane must have occasionally regretted her decision. As mistress of a large estate, her future would have been secured, she would have been able to help her ageing parents and sister, and she would have lead a life of comfort. However, for Jane, marrying without love was not an option. As she advised her niece Fanny later on, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection.” And she certainly did not love Harris Bigg-Wither, as her niece Caroline remembered in her old age.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jane Austen’s Love Mystery: Part 2

2. Dr Samuel Blackall


Image: An unknown young scholar.

There are several references to Dr Samuel Blackall in Austen’s biographies. Dr Blackall was a theology student and fellow of Emmanuel College in Cambridge. Jane and Dr Blackall met in 1798 when he was staying with his family friends, the Lefroys. Despite the Tom Lefroy affair, Jane had remained friends with Mrs Lefroy and was a frequent visitor to Ashe.

At the time, Dr Blackall was believed to be “in want of a wife”, as he was about to give up his fellowship and settle down at a parish. Perhaps Mrs Lefroy thought that Dr Blackall would be a good match for Jane. However, despite several matchmaking efforts, it appears that neither party warmed up to the idea. Mrs Lefroy later showed her a letter from Dr Blackall, of which Jane wrote, “There seems no likelihood of his coming into Hampshire this Christmas, and it is therefore most probable that our indifference will soon be mutual, unless his regard, which appeared to spring from knowing nothing of me at first, is best supported by never seeing me.'

Despite the “mutual indifference” admitted by Jane herself, some people do believe that Dr Blackall was Jane’s one true love. Amongst these was her niece Catherine Hubback who wrote, “if she ever was in love, I believe it was with Dr Blackall whom they met at some watering place…there is no doubt she admired him extremely, and perhaps regretted parting”. We do know that she met someone at a watering place years later, but there is some confusion between the nieces and nephews as to the identity of this person. I will come back to the seaside mystery in Part 5.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jane Austen’s Love Mystery: Part 1

1. Tom Lefroy

Biographer Jon Spence is convinced that Thomas Langlois Lefroy was Jane Austen’s one and true love and that she suffered for years following her loss. His book Becoming Jane Austen inspired the film, Becoming Jane, in which Jane’s relationship with Tom is portrayed as a full-blown romantic affair. Other biographers have also stressed the importance of the affair in Jane’s life.

Tom Lefroy

Young Tom Lefroy. Image from Wikipedia Archives.

Jane and Tom met during the Christmas season of 1795, when Jane was 20 years old. He was visiting his aunt and uncle, George and Anne Lefroy, at Ashe Parsonage, on his way to London where he was to study law. Anne Lefroy was a close friend of Jane Austen’s and a neighbour to the Austen family. Jane and Tom met at 4 balls and danced together. Jane obviously liked him, describing him as “a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man”.

Jane told Cassandra, “imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together”. Lively Jane must have flirted with Tom very openly, as Tom was “excessively laughed at about me at Ashe”, to the point that he once ran away when she visited Ashe!

Jane always describes Tom with light humour in her letters. Before a ball at Ashe, she wrote “I look forward with great impatience to it, as I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend… I shall turn it down, however, unless he promises to give away his white coat”. She also joked, “I mean to confine myself in the future to Mr Tom Lefroy… for whom I do not care a sixpence.”

The flirtation with Tom was not to last. Before their last ball together, Jane ironically wrote, “at length the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy & when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow, as I write, at the melancholy idea.” Tom was to proceed to London and the young couple never met again. It was Mrs Lefroy who sent him away, realising that the youngsters were about to form an attachment and neither of them had money to sustain a good living. He was certainly a practically-minded man, as on his return to Ireland, he married a rich heiress and moved on in life.

Tom Lefroy later became Chief Justice of Ireland and lived up to the old age of 93. In his last years his nephew asked him if he had loved Jane Austen, and he admitted that he had been in love with her, although it had been “a boyish love”.


The Chief Justice. Image from Wikipedia.

It is clear that there was a romance between the two, but how much this affected Jane Austen is unknown. According to Jane’s nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh and niece Caroline, the romance had been nothing out of the ordinary. Caroline wrote, “there was something in it, is true – but nothing out of the common way…nothing to call ill usage & no very serious sorrow endured” - a youthful, innocent flirtation, perhaps. There is no evidence to suggest that she had been deeply touched by this affair.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Jane Austen’s Love Mystery

- For a mystery it is, thanks to the lack of  biographical data from the bulk of her twenties and the discreteness with which Jane Austen handled her personal feelings in her letters.

I am sure that all fans of Jane Austen are intrigued to know if Jane Austen was ever in love, and why she never married. What inspired her to write 5 such influential novels about love and marriage?  No one knows for sure, but all her biographers seem to have their own ideas about Jane’s romantic leanings.

You must have seen the heavily dramatised, fictional film, Becoming Jane, based on Jon Spence’s biography, which portrays Jane Austen madly in love with Tom Lefroy in her early twenties, up to the point of nearly eloping with him. And the slightly more biographical, yet fictional Miss Austen Regrets, which assumes that later in life, Jane probably regretted having never married and secured a safe future for her and the ladies in her family.

Why did Jane Austen decide not to marry? Did she ever love a man enough to marry him, and lose him? Or was she simply not a romantic person at all?

In this series of articles I will now discuss some of Jane’s romantic connections and how they might have influenced the choices she made in life.

Before I begin, can you identify any of these 5 people thought to have been Jane’s lovers? And who – if any - do you think was Jane’s great love?





Tom Lefroy

File:Harris Bigg-Wither.jpg





Saturday, August 20, 2011

Meet Kaitlin Saunders, Author of “A Modern Day Persuasion”

About the Author

Kaitlin Saunders


Kaitlin Saunders, a fresh name in the Austenite world, is inspired by the works of Jane Austen. She first began writing at the age of sixteen with a period-style screenplay called “Caroline”, which was later made into a film. She has now brought Jane Austen to the 21st Century with her novel “A Modern Day Persuasion”, a modern but faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Book Synopsis

Nearly eight years ago, Anne’s family, specifically her father, convinced her that she was too young to wed and insinuated that her fianc√© Rick was solely interested in her wealth and status. Against her better judgment, Anne agreed to postpone the marriage, only to watch the love of her life walk away, never to be heard from again. Since then, time has not been kind, and with the family fortune now gone and Anne unable to move on with her life romantically, she struggles to make a name for herself as a greeting card designer. However, a series of serendipitous events causes Rick to re-enter her life, and at the same time a new beau seeks to claim her affections. The question that needs answering, however, remains the same: Can Anne recover from her previous rejection and love again?


Meet Kaitlin

Anna: Hi Kaitlin! Welcome to Austenised. Congratulations on publishing your book “A Modern Day Persuasion” and bringing Jane Austen to life. It was interesting to read your novel and see how Persuasion would fit into the modern context. I would like to know more about your experience of writing the novel and your inspirations for writing it.

Could you start by describing your biggest challenge in adapting a Jane Austen novel?

Kaitlin: My biggest challenge was taking Jane's premise for Persuasion and placing it into a modern context without perverting her original intent. Sure, you can write a modern day tale of her original idea, but will it really be Austen's beloved characters brought to life in our century? My number one goal while writing this novel was to simply modernize the circumstances and occupations of her characters, not alter who they are or how the story plays out.

Anna: In your dedication, you mention that your mother introduced you to Jane Austen. How did this happen and what was it that made you fall in love with her novels in the first place?

Kaitlin: My mother and I would have regular “girls nights” when I was growing up and watch old classics, including the 1980's Pride and Prejudice and any other adaptations we could get our hands on. I became entranced with the language, the manners and style of dress. As I grew older, I read the novels for myself and later, it was my mother who encouraged me to write A Modern Day Persuasion.

Anna: Which is your favourite Jane Austen novel? How did you choose to adapt Persuasion in particular?

Kaitlin: Persuasion is my favourite Jane Austen novel with Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility tying for a close second. I think I appreciate these three novels in particular because Anne, Fanny, and Elinor are so overlooked yet, because they are good and patient, they are given their heart's desires in the end. I chose to adapt Persuasion because I've heard it's one of the least popular of Austen's Major Six, and that's a pity if you ask me! Hopefully my modern day re-telling will help it gain popularity.

Anna: Your novel carefully follows the sequence of events in the original novel. How did you set off planning your novel?

Kaitlin: If you want the inside scoop, I first wrote A Modern Day Persuasion as a screenplay—which is why some readers comment that if flows like a movie and easily creates images. And Anna, I'm so glad you noticed how closely I tried to follow the original's sequence of events.

Anna: You have set your novel in modern California and Oregon. How did you select the settings for your novel?

Kaitlin: I am an Oregon-born and bred woman with family in California. Not only did it ease the writing process by keeping some familiarity to my story, but it also accommodated much of the settings necessary for the book's plot.

Anna: Your story is very faithful to the original. Did you face any difficulty in adapting any of the storyline or characters to the modern day context?

Kaitlin: Thank you! Yes, I did face some complications when adapting Persuasion. For starters, Rick couldn't make a fortune through the Navy like in days past; Anne would have a career; and it would be gross if Mr. Elliot, Anne's first cousin, was still pursuing her in this present day world!

Anna: Jane Austen’s main character, Anne, is a reserved and sensible, yet sweet woman with strong moral feelings. How do you think the character of Anne relates to a modern reader?

Kaitlin: It was important to me that Anne remain Jane's Anne. Anne is that shy girl in the background whom when you get to know one-on-one might have a lot to say! She's loyal, sensible, will listen to you, and feels things very deeply. Anne is the type of friend we all want standing beside us through the ups and downs, and that's what I call an ideal lady.

Anna: I enjoyed your hilarious adaptation of the hypochondriac Mary Musgrove. Who is your favourite character in “A Modern Day Persuasion” and why?

Kaitlin: Mary is a handful, isn't she! You should have heard my mother reading Mary's dialogue when completing some editing for me—hilarious! Mary was definitely one of the funniest characters to write, but it is Anne whom I so admire. Her patience, strong character, sweetness and especially her caring attitude is an everyday inspiration and standard to aspire to.

Anna: Jane Austen wrote in a unique style of her own, and there have been many attempts to replicate it since her lifetime. How is your style of writing inspired by Jane Austen?

Kaitlin: I want my stories to be relatable and Jane, I believe, was the master at making a circumstance hit home. She wrote about what she knew and had learned from those around her. Jane was a very observant lady! She brought to life characters that ring true even in this day and age and it inspires to me to likewise capture some of the ironic things we all encounter everyday.

Anna: Who is your target audience with “A Modern Day Persuasion”? Do you think that your novel will inspire new readers to explore the classic?

Kaitlin: My target audience is anybody and everybody! And yes, I hope my novel will inspire new readers to explore Austen's work as well as other classics. Ideally, after completing my novel, readers will desire to read the original and see how it compares and differs from mine.

Anna: Last, but not least, I would be curious to know if you are planning to write any more adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels - or are you planning to venture to something completely different?

Kaitlin: That's a great question. I'm currently working on two more modern day adaptations while writing several new and completely different stories. I like to keep busy!

Anna: Thank you for the interview, Kaitlin – looking forward to seeing more of you!


You can read more about Kaitlin Saunders on her website at