Monday, 24 July 2017


                                   Jane Austen: packed so much into a short life and continues to inspire.

EVERYONE has a favourite movie. It's that one you'll watch some evening when you've had the day from hell. Or lose yourself in for a couple of hours on a rainy afternoon, when you're too tired to do anything else. Throw in some popcorn, or a mug of coffee or a glass of wine and some get the picture. 

The wonderful thing about a favourite movie is not just seeing your favourite actors, or favourite characters on screen yet again. Nor is it about reliving memorable scenes or wonderful snippets of dialogue (you probably know them by heart at this stage, right?)

It's that there are no surprises. Because even the most adventurous of us, the ones who crave constant change (you know them: they never, ever holiday in the same place twice) sometimes need familiarity. A favourite movie - just like a favourite book - is a comfort blanket.

I have five all-time favourite movies. They are, in no particular order, as follows:
1. Woman of the Year, with the fab Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracey.
2. Back to the Future (Part 1) with the super Michael J. Fox.
3. It's a Wonderful Life (thank you for all those great Christmas Days on TV, Jimmy Stewart).
4. The Front Page with Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau (enough said).
5. Pride & Prejudice (the BBC mini-series with Colin Firth, which is not strictly a movie, and also the Keira Knightly/Mathew Macfadyen 2005 version, which is!)

Which, in a very roundabout way, leads me to the nub of this month's column. Sorry about that - I knew I'd get there in the end.

Yesterday, you see, there was a celebration of the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s death at the 18th Century stately home, Hilton Park, Co Monaghan. Monaghan is a border-county in the north-west of Ireland, and Jane Austen was celebrated there with an open-air production of Pride and Prejudice.

So, what's the connection?* A little tenuous, by the looks of it, but if you travel a few miles down to County Longford, you'll stumble upon the adopted home of Tom Lefroy, who was the inspiration for Mr Darcy.

So, what's the real story? Apparently Lefroy’s aunt Anne, who lived in Hampshire and was a friend of the Austens, invited her nephew from Ireland, at the time a young law student, to stay for Christmas 1795. He met Jane Austen at a ball, and judging from letters to her sister, they fell in love.

It wasn't meant to be. Amongst their greatest obstacle, was Lefroy's aunt, who realised that were the young couple to marry, they might be extremely poor. So, Tom Lefroy was sent home.

Jane started work on Pride and Prejudice the following year, and by all accounts, drew from her own experience, to write the novel. When Lefroy's aunt visited a couple of years later, neither she nor Jane even mentioned Tom. Jane later wrote that she was too proud to make any inquiries. 

Jane Austen died on July 18th, 1817, at the terribly young age of 41. Tom Lefroy, however, lived into his 90s, and became a judge, and then a chief justice. Unlike Jane, he married. But when asked about Jane in later life, he said he had loved her. 

No doubt the staging of the novel, by the Chapterhouse Theatre Company yesterday, was excellent. As was the food and wine bar.

But finding out about what inspired one of my favourite books (and movies), leaves me torn. On the one hand, I'm grateful that Jane produced a novel that continues to delight and inspire novelists, readers, students and movie-makers.

On the other hand, I'm sad that her own love life was thwarted.   


* Jane Austen and the Irish Connection by Julia Forsythe, published in paperback/kindle from Amazon.

ear reader,

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