Becoming Jane: Sorting Fact from Fiction
Becoming Jane, which is based on the life of Jane Austen, cleverly weaves fact and fiction to make Austen the heroine of a love story not unlike those in her novels. Anne Hathaway plays Austen, and James McAvoy fills the role of the romantic hero, Tom Lefroy. While the movie is not a biography, certain aspects of the story of Austen and Lefroy are true. For viewers who would like to know more, we offer these facts about people and events depicted in the film.
Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy
- During the Christmas and New Year's season of 1795-96, Jane Austen met a young Irishman named Tom Lefroy, who was visiting his uncle and aunt in Hampshire. Lefroy was on a break from his legal studies at Lincoln's Inn, London. Both Austen and Lefroy were twenty years old.
- Austen's only sister, Cassandra, was engaged to a young clergyman, who, in January 1796, sailed with his patron-employer to the West Indies. While Cassandra was staying with her fiancé's family that month, Austen wrote two letters to her describing Tom Lefroy and their encounters.
- The encounters included three balls, during which Austen and Lefroy danced and enjoyed each other's company. After the last ball Austen wrote to Cassandra (January 9, 1796): I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. . . . He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. . . . [H]e has but one fault, which time will, I trust, entirely remove—it is that his morning coat is a great deal too light. He is a very great admirer of Tom Jones, and therefore wears the same coloured clothes, I imagine, which he did when he was wounded.
- In Austen's next surviving letter (January 14, 1796), she anticipates, with characteristic irony, an upcoming party at the home of Lefroy's uncle: 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 Mr Heartley & all his Estate to her for her sole use and Benefit in future, . . . as I mean to confine myself in future to Mr Tom Lefroy, for whom I do not care sixpence.
- The next day she 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.
- Shortly thereafter Lefroy returned to London and resumed his legal studies, in which he was supported by his great-uncle Benjamin Langlois.
- Seven months after Lefroy left Hampshire, Austen and her brothers Edward and Frank stopped in London on their way to Kent. A letter from Austen to Cassandra dated August 23, 1796, from "Cork Street" suggests that they stayed at the home of Benjamin Langlois, who lived in Cork Street. The accommodation probably came about through the Austen family's friendship with the Rev. George Lefroy in Hampshire (Benjamin Langlois's nephew and Tom Lefroy's uncle, with whom Tom was staying when he met Austen). There is no evidence that Austen saw Tom Lefroy or that he was even in London while she and her brothers were there.
- Two years later (November 1798) Tom Lefroy again visited his uncle and aunt in Hampshire but did not see Austen during his stay. In 1797 Lefroy had become engaged in Ireland to Mary Paul, the sister (an "heiress") of a college friend, and in 1799 they married. One of their daughters was named Jane, probably after Mary's mother, Jane Paul. Lefroy practiced law in Dublin and eventually became Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.
- Additional information and interesting theories about Austen and Lefroy are offered in two essays in Persuasions On-Line: "The One-Sided Romance of Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy," by Joan Klingel Ray, and "Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy: Stories," by Linda Robinson Walker.
- Cassandra Austen's fiancé (whose name was Tom Fowle, not Robert) died of fever in the West Indies in February 1797. She never married.
- Eliza de Feuillide was Austen's sophisticated cousin, whose first husband, the Count de Feuillide, was guillotined in Paris during the Reign of Terror. Becoming Jane includes an imagined depiction of her romance with Austen's brother Henry. Eliza and Henry were, in fact, married in 1797.
- Austen's elder brother George was mentally or physically impaired, though the details of his infirmity are not known. He lived with a family in a nearby village. It is not likely that he attended church with the Austens, as depicted in the movie.
More About Jane Austen
- Before meeting Tom Lefroy, Austen had written "Elinor and Marianne," which she later revised as Sense and Sensibility, and a large body of short fiction, including Lady Susan. A list of her writing and a brief biography are available on this site.
- In 1802 Austen received a proposal of marriage from a wealthy man she had known for many years, Harris Bigg-Wither, the brother of close friends. During a visit with her friends, she accepted his proposal one evening but changed her mind and withdrew her consent the next morning. She never married.
By Marsha Huff