Jane Anna Elizabeth Lefroy was born in 1793, the first daughter of James Austen and Anne Mathew. After Anna’s mother passed away in 1795, James married Mary Lloyd (1797) and fathered James Edward Austen-Leigh (JEAL) and Caroline Austen. JEAL later wrote A Memoir of Jane Austen.
As a child, Anna was very close to her aunt, Jane Austen and stayed with Jane and Cassandra for two years at Steventon before her father (James) remarried. Anna often wrote to her aunt Jane, and received numerous letters, advice and love in return. Reading letters between these two women, one gets the sense that Anna was special to Jane and vice versa. Austen’s humorousMock Panegyric on a Young Friend declare’s Anna’s virtues for all to see.
It has been said that Anna Lefroy was the prime orchestrator for flaming the ember of old love between Tom Lefroy and Jane Austen. In the Memoir, JEAL was very careful not to mention more than a paragraph of the brief interaction between his aunt and the Chief Justice of Ireland. In writing the book, Caroline warned her brother:
‘against raking up that old story of the still living ‘Chief Justice’ – That there was something in it, is true – but nothing out of the common way – (as I beleive). Nothing to call ill usage, & no very serious sorrow endured. The York Lefroys got up a very strong version of it all, & spread their own notions in the family – but they were for years very angry with their Kinsman, & rather delighted in a proof as they thought, of his early heartlessness. I have my story from my Mother, who was near at the time – It was a disappointment, but Mrs. Lefroy sent the gentleman off at the end of a very few weeks, that no more mischief might be done. If his love had continued a few more years, he might have sought her out again – as he was then making enough to marry on – but who can wonder that he did not? He was settled in Ireland, and he married an Irish lady – who certainly had the convenience of money – there was no engagement, & never had been.
Caroline’s letter was dated April 1st 1869. Only a few weeks later, on May 4th 1869, Chief Justice of Ireland Tom Lefroy died. Afterwards on May 24th, Anna wrote to Emma Austen-Leigh (JEAL’s wife) a contradiction of what Caroline had testified (Faye et al. 1989, p. 251):
‘… I am the only person who has any faith in the tradition – nor should I probably be an exception if I had not married into the family of Lefroy – but when I came to hear again & again, from those who were old enough to remember, how the Mother had disliked Tom Lefroy because he had behaved so ill to Jane Austen, which sometimes the additional weight of the Father’s condemnation, what could I think then? Or what except to give a verdict… [of] ‘under mitigating circumstances’ – As – First, the youth of the Parties – secondly, that Mrs. Lefroy, charming woman as she was, & warm in her feelings, was also partial in her judgments – Thirdly – that for other causes, too long to enter upon, she not improbably set out with a prejudice against the Gentleman, & would have distrusted had there been no Jane Austen in the case. The one thing certain is, that to the last year of his life she was remembered as the object of his youthful admiration.’
Biographer Deidre Le Faye suggests that ‘Anna’s opinions [re: Jane and Tom] had evidently been formed from information given by her elder brothers-in-law George and Edward Lefroy…’ and also from Thomas Edward Preston Lefroy (TEPL, the old Tom Lefroy’s nephew who belonged to the York branch of the Lefroy family).’
On November 8, 1814, Anna Austen married Benjamin Lefroy, one of the sons of Mrs. Anne Lefroy of Ashe, hence Tom Lefroy’s cousin. Their marriage was not an overly cheerful occasion; Caroline remembered that:
‘My sister’s wedding was certainly in the extreme of quietness: yet not so much as to be in any way > censured or remarked upon–and this was the order of the day… The season of the year, the unfrequented road to the church, the grey light within… no stove to give warmth, no flowers to give colour and brightness, no friends, high or low, to offer their good wishes, and so to claim some interest in the great event of the day – all these circumstances and deficiencies must, I think, have given a gloomy air to the wedding…’ (Radovici 1995, p. 24).
One has to wonder if the circumstances which happened to Jane and Tom also happened to Anna and Ben, i.e. that heir marriage was opposed by others. It worth noting that during Ben’s ordination later on , the Bishop asked whether he was ‘the son of Mrs. Lefroy of Ashe? And had he married a Miss Austen?'(Halperin 1984, p. 29).
What did Jane think of Anna’s marriage and her luck to join the family of Lefroy? She was certainly happy for her neice and visited the couple on several occasions. Is it possible that she felt the irony as well; that of a wedding of a Miss Austen to a Mr. Lefroy, though not that of Jane and Tom? When Anna gave birth to Jemima, Jane was very delighted and like a proud mother herself, baosted that Anna would definitely want to see Jane’s Emma as well, for Emma was already published by that time (Letter 124, December 1815).
Against all odds, the love between Anna and Ben survived; their daughter Jemima even married Thomas E.P. Lefroy, who later supplied the most important information to JEAL (that of the Chief Justice’s “loving Jane, though he qualified it by calling it a “boyish love”.) Following in the footstep of her famous aunt, Anna Lefroy was also an accomplished writer. She wrote the novella Mary Hamilton (1833), The Winter’s Tale (1841), Springtide (1842) and Recollections of Aunt Jane (1864). Anna also tried to finish her aunt’s last legacy Sanditon, but to no avail. Anna Lefroy did manage to do one thing her dearest aunt Jane could not do: tie the knot with a Lefroy (even though Ben died early, in 1829), and even extended that trend into the second generation by marrying another Austen-Lefroy (their daughter Jemima) to a Lefroy (TEPL) on September 9, 1846. A believer in true love, Anna Lefroy died in 1872.
Anna Lefroy: a believer of Love was written by Icha for the Becoming Jane Fansite. It is adapted here with the author’s permission.
Icha admits that she did not know much about Jane Austen before watching the film, and although she understood that the movie is not 100% accurate, she was inspired to learn more of the famous English author. Icha and her friends created the Becoming Jane Fansite to accommodate their research and interests about Jane Austen, Tom Lefroy and the film. She is now doing her PhD in Australia on marine mammal management.
Portraits of Anna Austen Lefroy used in this biography are reprinted from A Memoir of Jane Austen by JAEL and A Portrait of Jane Austen by David Cecil.
Austen-Leigh, J. E. 1871, A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections (2002 Oxford edition), Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford.
Cecil, D. 1978, A Portrait of Jane Austen, Constable, London.
Chapman, R. W. 1979, Jane Austen’s Letters to Her Sister Cassandra and Others, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Cranfield, R. E. 1960, From Ireland to Western Australia: The Establishment of a Branch of the Lefroy Family at Walebing, Western Australia, 1842 to 1960, Service Printing Perth.
Faye, D. l., Austen-Leigh, W. & Austen-Leigh, R. A. 1989, Jane Austen: A Family Record, The British Library, London.
Halperin, J. 1984, The Life of Jane Austen, The Harvester Press Limited, Sussex.
Radovici, N. 1995, A Youthful Love: Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, Merlin Books Devon.