Deborah Yaffe

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Goofy Austen News; or, Any Link to Jane Will Do

By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 27 2014 02:00PM

There are weeks when all you hear about Jane Austen is staid, decorous stuff: the prospect of a new film adaptation, or the exhibit of a beloved family heirloom, or the sale of a semi-authentic portrait.


Then there are other weeks when the weirdness quotient gets pretty overwhelming. This was such a week.


Item #1: A mahogany sofa that once belonged to Tom Lefroy is up for auction. (It may have been reupholstered once or twice in the intervening years, since the fabric is described as "Art Nouveau.")


Lefroy, the Daily Mail informs us, “is believed to have provided the inspiration” for Mr. Darcy. The headline drops all qualifiers, making Lefroy the flat-out “real-life Mr. Darcy.”


It’s such a lovely story that one hates to point out that Jane Austen had a crush on Tom Lefroy for about two weeks when she was twenty and then probably never saw him again. Or that the Lefroy-inspired-Darcy meme is mostly based on an Anne Hathaway movie.


Or that Mr. Darcy is a phenomenally wealthy landowner, has only one sister, and standoffishly refuses to dance at a neighborhood ball, whereas Tom Lefroy was a struggling apprentice lawyer, had ten siblings, and danced with Jane Austen so often that her sister warned her to be more discreet.


Item #2: A town where Jane Austen once. . .shopped. . . plans to create an Austen heritage trail in order to lure the tourists visiting a nearby gin factory. It's hard to believe no one has previously capitalized on the near-perfect overlap between gin fans and Jane fans.


But still -- one wonders: will true Jane fans spend their time in Overton, a place with minimal Austen links, rather than driving half an hour to Chawton, a place with substantial Austen links?


And the biggest question of all: who on earth is that meek, sweet-faced woman in the bonnet – Jane Austen’s little-known Quaker cousin?


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