The Daily Telegraph
I’ll flirt my last with him, Austen said in letter about real Mr Darcy
JANE AUSTEN’S oldest surviving letter in which she tells of plans to end a flirtation with a real-life Mr Darcy is to go on display.
The letter was sent by the author in January 1796, when she was 20, to her sister Cassandra. It describes her plans to attend a ball and speculates which gentlemen she might meet there.
Austen writes that her romance with Tom Lefroy, an Irish lawyer, is coming to an end and she is going to “flirt my last” with him. She is crying at the “melancholy” thought, she writes.
It has been speculated that Mr Lefroy partly inspired Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, as she started to write the manuscript shortly after the letter was sent.
Some aspects of his character may have been used for the character Mr Darcy, the brooding and conceited love interest of the witty and incisive Elizabeth Bennet.
The letter will be displayed for the first time at Austen’s former home in the village of Chawton, Hants, alongside a portrait of the lawyer as part of a new exhibition that opens today.
Austen wrote: “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, & 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.”
The following day she writes: “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.”
Sophie Reynolds, a curator at the Jane Austen’s House museum, said: “The letter about the end of Austen’s flirtation with Mr Lefroy is one that Jane Austen fans will be very excited about.
“It is the earliest surviving letter written by Austen. It’s a really fun letter, she’s young, she’s out partying, she’s a bright young thing.”
Ms Reynolds, however, said she does not believe the author was heartbroken.
“This was a very tongue in cheek letter,” she said. “She’s probably not really that upset about not seeing him again.”