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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Tom Lefroy, commitment-phobe?

Consider the term “fuckboy”:

--“A womanizer; a young man who sleeps with women without any intention of having a relationship with them . . . . a weak and contemptible man.” (Wiktionary)

--"Basically a boy who fucks girls around; gives mixed signals, tell you they want you then drop you and pretend you mean nothing to them.” (Urban Dictionary)

--“Doesn’t respect women, but relies on them heavily. He’s distant, doesn’t care about other people’s time, and won’t commit.” (Dictionary.com)


Now consider a recent use of said term, in an online article about the latest work by the indie-pop duo Tommy Lefroy:

--"Named after the original nineteenth-century fuckboy--and real-life inspiration for Mr. Darcy--Thomas Langlois Lefroy, who broke Jane Austen's heart . . ."


In the winter of 1795-96, the twenty-year-old Tom Lefroy and the twenty-year-old Jane Austen spent a pleasant Christmas vacation talking, dancing, and flirting. Relatives who knew he needed to marry money whisked him away before he could contract an imprudent match with the unmoneyed Austen, and eventually he married someone else, fathered seven children, had a reasonably distinguished legal and political career, and died in 1869, at the age of ninety-three.


This is a fuckboy?

Look, I know we all love Jane Austen, and it makes us sad that a guy she probably cared about (though who knows how much) hurt her feelings by not sticking around long enough for her to dump him herself so she could get back to producing the deathless novels that she probably wouldn’t have had time to write if she’d been raising his seven children. But it seems kind of unfair, even at this distant date, to call a man who was married from his twenties to his eighties a “fuckboy.”


Does it matter? All the people who knew Tom Lefroy, let alone the man himself, are long dead. No one is likely to be hurt by the dissing of a boy who, from what the (sparse) record shows, probably did nothing worse than spend a couple of weeks falling for the wrong girl.


Still, I find it a little scary how easily and carelessly a reputation can be wrecked. Just take a famous name, blend in a dubious biopic, put the combination through the internet echo chamber, and voilà: A man who stayed married to the same woman for fifty-nine years is suddenly the original nineteenth-century fuckboy.

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