Jane’s family was not wealthy, but she had friends such as Catherine and Alethea Bigg from Manydown with whom she went to dances. If there was a shortage of men to dance with, then sometimes women danced together. Jane, who is known for her sharp comments, was not always very positive about the available dance partners. She wrote “there was a scarcity of men in general, and a still greater scarcity of any that were good for much …”.
You might have seen the film ‘Becoming Jane’ with the story of Jane’s short love affair with Tom Lefroy. Tom was the Irish nephew of good friends of the Austen family, the Lefroys of Ashe. The Reverend Lefroy was vicar there. Jane wrote frankly to her sister about Tom, who she had met at a dance at Ashe Rectory in 1795, when she was just 20 ….
“He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together”.
The brief romance was not going anywhere. Tom Lefroy had no money and he was bundled home by his aunt and uncle. Although her letters to Cassandra are very chatty and easy – more like the way we phone our friends today – I think she did fall a bit in love with Tom.
Some seven years later, she came from Bath to go to a ball with the Bigg sisters from Manydown, and their brother Harris proposed to Jane. No doubt thinking of the financial security this would bring, she accepted him. Following what must have been a dreadful, sleepless night, she sought him out next morning and retracted. This was a big issue – so much was possible by marrying a wealthy landowner. She asked to be swiftly taken to her brother in Steventon and from there back to Bath.
Jane’s brother, Edward, had been adopted by wealthy childless relatives and was brought up as a gentleman with a large estate in Kent, eventually inheriting the Chawton estate near Alton. After Jane’s father had died, she and her mother and sister had no home and for the next four years made their home with Jane’s brothers’ families. Finally, in 1809, wealthy Edward offered them a cottage in Chawton. Here, for seven years, Jane wrote again, revising her early works and beginning to publish albeit anonymously at first. The women had a good home here. Now the Jane Austen House museum.