Love or Just Friendship? Guest Blog By Gianna Thomas

Love or Just Friendship? Guest Blog By Gianna Thomas

Elizabeth Ann West here: I met Gianna Thomas online and find it so neat that she writes JAFF and Regency fiction for readers! She is here today to look very closely at the nature of Jane Austen’s relationship with Thomas Lefroy. We all know movie adaptations of historical figure lives take great liberties with the source material to tell a good story. So let’s find out if we can suss out what really was going on with one of Jane Austen’s suspected paramours. . . .


Love or Just Friendship? by Gianna Thomas

Ah, was it just friendship, puppy love, or much more between Jane Austen and Thomas Lefroy? It’s an interesting question that a number of writers have pursued even to the point of the movie ‘Becoming Jane Austen’ which indicated it was much more.

Recently, I made a short post on Facebook considering this very question. In this article, I’m going to pursue it a little deeper because I’m still intrigued with what might have been the case. How about you?

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Jane Austen was a very good writer of Regency romance. Else why would the tale of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet and other couples in her books be celebrated and remembered much more so than during her lifetime. But could a young woman who was an innocent write of romantic love if she had never experienced it? I doubt Darcy’s declaration of love to Elizabeth would have come from Austen’s brain unless her heart had been touched at some point with romantic love.

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

We know Jane loved her family especially her older sister Cassandra. But romantic love is different from the love of family. It not only involves the heart, it involves all of the person mentally, emotionally, and physically. That is an undercurrent throughout the whole of Pride and Prejudice, and, I daresay, all of Jane Austen’s works.

Thomas Langlois Lefroy was considered an honorable man who married Mary Paul in 1799. He met Jane Austen when visiting with his aunt and uncle the winter of 1795-1796. During that Christmas season, he and Jane met at four balls and possibly other occasions where they danced and conversed. He also loaned her the scandalous book Tom Jones which would have added to her imagination along with other novels she might have read. Even if this had contributed to her writings, it is doubtful it would be the complete explanation for the romantic undercurrent of her books.

Did Jane Austen develop a tendre or more for Tom Lefroy? Did he begin to love her? When we remember that he married Mary Paul, the sister of a fellow student, we need to consider that he knew her before he met Jane Austen. Letters from his uncle and LeFroy’s Memoir written by his son indicate that Tom was dedicated to his study of the law and his determination to make that his life’s work. He was a diligent student even winning a number of prizes along the way wholly devoted to his studies. When he met Jane Austen, he was taking a much-needed break and relaxing before returning to them.

Because he was an honorable man, if he really was planning to wed Mary Paul at some point, he would not have lead Jane on. It’s possible that two things might have happened. He enjoyed Jane’s company and considered her a friend or he began developing feelings for her. He wouldn’t be the first person who found that their heart was taking over their life. That might be the reason he ran one day when the Austens came to visit his aunt.

Or it’s possible that an affair of the heart was one-sided with Jane Austen falling in love with Tom but with it not being reciprocated. Her surviving letters to Cassandra, to me, seem a little bit “the lady doth protest too much.”

“Tell Mary that I make over Mr. 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 Mr. Tom Lefroy, for whom I do not care sixpence. Assure her also, as a last and indisputable proof of Warren’s indifference to me, that he actually drew that gentleman’s picture for me, and delivered it to me without a sigh.”  –Jane Austen to Cassandra, January 14, 1796

Why would Jane want a picture of Tom Lefroy? Didn’t the desire for a memento such as a lock of hair or a picture of someone indicate a little more than just friendship? This occurred close to the time Tom would be returning to his studies.

I find one of Jane’s quotes from Pride and Prejudice interesting.

To be fond of dancing [is] a certain step towards falling in love Pride and Prejudice

Jane and Tom did a lot of dancing during his stay. And they seemed to have had a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company as well. Many a young person has fallen in love under similar circumstances.

Even if Tom was developing feelings for Jane would his feelings of duty toward his family as the eldest son interfere? He was the heir with nine siblings that he could help elevate in life with the goals he had set, and he was very ambitious. When he did become engaged to Mary Paul, it was two years before they wed showing his dedication to his law studies.

His family’s expectations were more than just wishful thinking. His great-uncle, Benjamin Langlois, who was the family’s wealthy benefactor had great expectations for Tom regarding the law and Parliament. It would be difficult for a young man of only twenty years to override those expectations even if he hadn’t been very ambitious on his own. His younger brother Anthony did marry for love and lost Langlois’ support when he wed a young woman of no consequence. Tom might have suffered the same if he didn’t live up to his family’s expectations. With the loss of his great-uncle’s support, he would not have been able to help his family including his six sisters. Jane Austen’s second to last reference to Tom Lefroy in a letter was January 14, 1796, to Cassandra.

Friday. — 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.

One writer suggested she was joking. My thought when I read it was that she was trying to leave the impression she was joking. It seems to me to be underscored with tremendous sadness.

I admit that I’m a hopeless romantic, but I did find two curious occurrences.

Upon learning of Jane Austen’s death (18 July 1817), Thomas Langlois Lefroy travelled from Ireland to England to pay his respects to the British author. In addition, at an auction of Cadell’s papers (possibly in London), one Tom Lefroy bought a Cadell publisher’s rejection letter—for Austen’s early version of Pride and Prejudice, titled First Impressions. –Wikipedia

The second is Thomas Lefroy’s confession in regard to Jane Austen when in a discussion with his nephew.

My late venerable uncle … said in so many words that he was in love with her, although he qualified his confession by saying it was a boyish love. As this occurred in a friendly & private conversation, I feel some doubt whether I ought to make it public. –Wikipedia

So, the debate rages on as to whether or not there was a great love between Jane Austen and Thomas Langlois Lefroy. Two things are certain: Jane Austen is a writer beloved by many, and Tom Lefroy was a good man, after all.

Becoming Jane Fansite


You can find Gianna Thomas’ book Darcy Chooses in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. Check out her books today!

16 Responses to Love or Just Friendship? Guest Blog By Gianna Thomas

  1. Lovely post, Gianna. Considering how many of us have fallen in love with Jane Austen’s mind, particularly her wit, it’s not hard to imagine an intelligent man who met her in person falling in love with her. At the very least, there was some intense flirting between them, and it would not surprise me to find that they were both infatuated or in love to a degree. It is the only plausible explanation I’ve ever heard that would have given Austen the deep understanding she had of the emotion behind romantic love. While she herself may have never found fulfillment of that love through matrimony, she lovingly bestowed that outcome on at least eight deserving young women in her novels.

  2. I think it not too far fetched to put him in a bit of a Frank Churchill but not completely of course. I think of him as having a flirt with our Jane and finding her fun and engaging, not thinking too much about it because his honor was engaged back at school with Mary. However, they both began to fall in love, perhaps Jane even more so since he was her focus, and Thomas Lefroy (to maintain his honor and keep from doing something that would hurt them both) did the only thing he knew to do: he left. Doesn’t make it any better for Jane OR for him, but I don’t think him a bounder, just young and trying to do the right thing. Love your thoughts!

    • Thank you, Stephanie. I’m with you in thinking that was part of his reason for leaving. An honorable man would have been torn if his loyalties were split, and I’ve wondered if he experienced that for a while before and possibly after he married. I do think he loved his wife, otherwise, I don’t think he would have had seven children by Mary. The question is: Was Jane always at the back of his mind throughout his life?

  3. For those of us who grew up in the Western world in the latter half of the 20th century it can be difficult to comprehend how people normally got married by dutiful design and for reasons other than love and happily-ever after But the reality is that until that particular time and place — and even until this day in some cultures — it was and is quite common to make arranged marriages for reasons other than personal happiness. When I first read JA as a schoolgirl I did not pick up on it but when I came back to her more recently I could not help but remark that one of the predominant features of her books is a thread of wistfulness that runs through all her stories. Perhaps Gianna’s insightful analysis accounts for some, or maybe even most, of it. Lovely posting.

    • Thank you, Janis. I can’t imagine how I’d feel to know that I loved someone who had no choice but to marry someone else. I don’t think I could completely tamp down the sadness and, possibly, despair I might feel. Perhaps, that’s is what Jane dealt with the rest of her life and writing allowed her to cope with those feelings.

  4. I’ve always thought it was sincere on both sides. We must not filter our expectations through 21st century eyes. Duty, duty, duty was the name of the game in the 19th century.

  5. Thank you, Sharon. This is a topic next to my heart as I am a hopeless romantic as well. Is it always best to have loved and lost rather than never loved at all? I think that both can hurt abominably and believe that Jane suffered at one point and worked through it with her writings. Perhaps, it made her the writer she became, and the world was blessed because of it. True, the movie ‘Becoming Jane’ touched our hearts, and one hopes that at some point Jane Austen found some peace and happiness.

    • It was my pleasure, Regina. I can’t help but wonder why Cassandra destroyed so many of Jane’s letters. And my hopeless romantic side can’t help but ask “Was it because of Thomas Lefroy and Jane’s feelings for him being mentioned in at least some of them?” This huge question mark in Jane Austen’s life may never be resolved. Sigh!

  6. Welcome Gianna!! We are thrilled to have you with us as our 2nd guest blogger! And such a terrific topic. I’m of the hopeless romantic variety so no amount of evidence to the contrary shall ever convince me that these two crazy kids weren’t madly in love! *sigh

    Okay, maybe not….. but it still made for a fabulous movie. LOL!

    Cheers to you, my friend! Thanks for joining us on this busy Father’s Day. Sharon

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