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Why Jane Austen Never Married

December 18, 2017 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Thomas Lefroy. (Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Fanny Knight didn’t know what to do. She was supposed to be in love, but when it came time to marry, she couldn’t muster up much feeling for her intended. A concerned aunt warned her not to look a gift horse in the mouth—but not to marry too hastily.

“Nothing can be compared to the misery of being bound without Love,” the aunt wrote in an 1814 letter. “If his deficiencies of manner strike you more than all his good qualities, give him up at once.”

Auntie should know—she was Jane Austen, one of history’s most astute observers of love, marriage and flirtation. But though the novelist published six novels about love, including Pride and Prejudice, she never married. Not that she didn’t get the chance—she turned down multiple chances at long-term love.

Like her heroines, Austen was witty, pretty and flirtatious. And like the heroines she would later create, it was up to her to translate those charms into a financially stable marriage. At the time, marriage was a complex economic decision, because women’s wealth was tied up in the marriage market.

Women’s fortunes passed from their fathers to their husbands, who controlled their wealth until their death, and men had to decide on wives whose fortunes could help fund their lands and lifestyles. As a result, it was common for engagements to be contracted not for love, but for economic reasons—a common trope in Jane Austen’s novels.

For Jane, things were complicated by the fact that she had no dowry. Her father had financial difficulties and no money to pass on to his daughters, and Jane knew that she’d have to overcome that financial speed bump by being so charming or witty that a man could not refuse her. She got her chance in 1795, when she met Tom Lefroy.

Thomas Lefroy. (Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Irish nephew of a family friend, Lefroy piqued the 19-year-old Jane’s interest. She attended several parties with him and liked him enough to write about him to her sister, Cassandra, bragging that they had frequently danced and visited at several balls.

Then, in January 1796, Jane wrote an intriguing letter to Cassandra. “I …read more


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