August is officially Romance Awareness Month. Apparently, this sweltering month was chosen to honor romance because it is officially six months from Valentine’s Day. The legend goes, couples are encouraged to assess their relationships in August before heading into the cold autumn and winter months. If all is well, the couple is destined to succeed in the dark months ahead. If there is any hesitation, the couple is encouraged to break it off in August.
In honor of Romance Awareness Month, I will be discussing the relationships of famous romance writers throughout history with my series Romance, Writing, & Relationships. This week’s author is none other than one of the most famous romance authors of all time: Jane Austen.
Jane Austen is unarguably the master of romance novels. She gave life to women whose only choice in life was to wed, but in doing so, also gave an inside look into the wittiness and humor women often had to hide to even obtain a husband. The relatability and honesty of her novels made her an instant hit (even though she was published anonymously). Her four most recognized novels—Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Sense & Sensibility, and her posthumous Persuasion—are still best-selling classics today. But while Austen was known for her romantic plots, she never married herself. However, that doesn’t mean she stayed lonely her entire life.
In December 1795, neighbor Tom Lefroy visited the Austen family home of Steventon. It is suspected that Tom and Jane were introduced at a neighborhood social gathering (like a ball), and letters between Jane and her sister, Cassandra, reveal that the couple was inseparable for quite some time. While Tom and Jane were getting smitten in Steventon, the Lefroy family was not happy with the arrangement, so they sent Tom away in January of 1796 to continue school in London to become a barrister. Truthfully, the Lefroy family didn’t have much money either—something which Jane desperately needed to help her family. Tom and Jane never again saw each other, but both spoke fondly of their young love.
Seven years later, Jane was introduced to Harris Bigg-Withers (the heir to a wealthy neighboring family) when she returned to Steventon with her sister. Harris quickly proposed to Jane, providing her with the only proposal she would ever receive in her lifetime and giving her a way out of the “dreaded” spinsterhood. Shocked, Jane initially accepted the proposal for the sole reason of financial stability for her family. However, Harris’s stutter, lack of education (he had flunked out of Oxford whereas Jane had succeeded), and his young age turned Jane off of the proposal by the following morning. At twenty-seven years old, Jane was settled into living her life unmarried. She had her family and her novels. She was content in life and didn’t necessarily need a partner.
After Harris, there is no record of any other relationships Jane may have entered into. There is one suggestion that Jane may have had a lover who quickly passed after their meeting; however, the history of their romance was never confirmed. In later years, Jane has been tied to a romance of sorts with Cassandra, who lost a fiancé at a young age and never recovered. This romance certainly wasn’t sexual in nature, but instead was a strong bond between two women who supported one another throughout their careers and lives as spinsters. Cassandra was even with Jane upon her death in 1817 and helped posthumously publish Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. But Jane proved that she never needed a husband to make a name for herself. Her writing did just that. If only she knew how iconic her romantic novels still are today.