Some years ago I dramatised the letters of Jane Austen for BBC 'Woman's Hour'. For a few months I was wrapped up completely in her world and in the doings of her extended family circle whose names became familiar to me. Then hey presto! A couple of weeks ago the name of Helen Lefroy popped up in an obituary and brought all that time back to me quite vividly.
I knew of Helen Lefroy as a very well respected Jane Austen scholar. I also knew she was a direct descendent of Jane Austen through the marriage of her niece, Anna, to one Benjamin Lefroy. The Lefroys and the Austen were near neighbours in Hampshire. George Austen and George Lefroy were Rectors of adjoining parishes. A nephew of the Lefroys, Thomas Lefroy, was the young Jane's dancing partner and she enjoyed flirting with him. When he went back to his home in Ireland she wrote to Cassandra, 'At last the day is come when I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy'. Nice to think of the young Jane letting her hair down and being girly,
There is something in the photograph of Helen Lefroy that reminds me of the well- known silhouette of Jane Austen. Like Jane, Helen had a large nose and a small mouth. She looks twinkly, jolly and down to earth. Like Jane she too never married or had children and lived most of her life in Hampshire, living to be a 100 and producing a wonderful 'pocket biography ' of Jane.
The Georgian world felt suddenly nearer. I learn a lot from biographies.