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Tuesday, June 10

Seen on the Blogosphere: Tom Lefroy's Image is on the Auction Block

According to The Times Online, "A 3" watercolour of Thomas Langlois Lefroy, the man thought to be the real-life inspiration behind Darcy, has just been made public. The portrait, painted by the English miniaturist George Engleheart in 1798 two years after Lefroy and Austen were forced to part because his family didn't consider her to be marriage material, will be on sale at the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair next week [June 12-18, 2008] with an asking price of £50,000. It is one of only two portraits of Lefroy known to exist.

Though Lefroy, an Irish-born politician and judge who had enjoyed a flirtation in his early twenties with Austen, has a perfectly pleasant face in the picture; there's just no way that he has a six-pack. His features are so delicate that he looks like he might even weigh less than Elizabeth Bennet."

Mmmm. Had the reporter researched the artist's oeuvre, she would not have described Tom Lefroy as an effeminate lightweight. The miniatures from the Philadelphia Museum of Art attest that George Engleheart painted Tom's portrait in his distinctive style: with a pale face, large eyes, and rather mistily defined features. Click here to view his treatment of a female subject, which is eerily similar to the men's portraits.

As an aside, I'm rather curious to know how the myth that Tom Lefroy was the inspiration for Mr. Darcy got started. Is this "fact" found in any letters written by Jane or her kin? Or did biographers in later years simply assume that since Jane and Tom broke off their rather minor and youthful fling a few months before Jane began First Impressions, that Tom was the inspiration? (Answer: MAGS over at Austenblog says it was Jon Spence, author of Becoming Jane Austen.) Perhaps the biographers were struck by the following (rather minor) information. Jane mentioned Tom in two letters in which her tone was mildly sarcastic and offhand. (Read Lori Smith's remarks here.) Learning of Jane's death, Tom, now a distinguished judge, traveled from his home in Ireland to England to pay his respects. As an old man, when questioned by his nephew about Jane, he stated that although he had loved Jane Austen, it had been a "boyish love." In 1870, this nephew wrote to James Edward Austen Leigh:

My late venerable uncle ... said in so many words that he was in love with her, although he qualified his confession by saying it was a boyish love. As this occurred in a friendly & private conversation, I feel some doubt whether I ought to make it public.

Learn more about Tom Lefroy and the artist who painted his youthful miniature in these links, and read Laurel Ann's post below:

Last image: Thomas Langlois Lefroy, 1855 by W. H. Mote, Posted by Vic, Ms. Place

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