A Jane Fairfax Conundrum

Over the weekend I read Penny Gay’s thought-provoking Persuasions article: “Jane Fairfax and the ‘She Tragedies’ of the Eighteenth Century.” But I am curious as to where a statement (not footnoted) comes from; can anyone out there help ???

Dr Gay makes a wonderful case for Jane Fairfax to be compared with the type of characters portrayed so well onstage by Sarah Siddons; these characters usually went mad, killed themselves, or simply died. To sustain the proposed connection page 128 has the following parenthetical claim: Austen, of course, knew well where Jane [Fairfax] really belonged as a character: she told her family that Jane did not long survive her marriage to Frank [Churchill].

Told her family made me conclude that A Memoir of Jane Austen was the source; but that cannot be, for here are all the statements regarding the ‘future’ of Austen’s characters in the 1871 edition:

“She [Jane Austen] certainly took a kind of parental interest in the beings whom she had created, and did not dismiss them from her thoughts when she had finished her last chapter. … She would, if asked, tell us many little particulars about the subsequent career of some of her people. In this traditionary way we learned that Miss Steele never succeeded in catching the Doctor; that Kitty Bennet was satisfactorily married to a clergyman near Pemberley, while Mary obtained nothing higher than one of her uncle Philip’s clerks, and was content to be considered a star in the socitey of Meriton; that the ‘considerable sum’ given by Mrs. Norris to William Price was one pound; that Mr. Woodhouse survived his daughter’s marriage, and kept her and Mr. Knightley from settling at Donwell, about two years; and that the letters placed by Frank Churchill before Jane Fairfax, which she swept away unread, contained the word ‘pardon.’ Of the good people in ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’ we know nothing more than what is written…” (pp. 148-9)

Did Dr Gay mix up Mr Woodhouse’s demise with the Frank-Jane ‘pardon’?? Or does a more extensive list of what happened to Jane Austen’s characters after the book(s) ended exist elsewhere??

I do have Le Faye’s Reminiscences of Caroline Austen to check, but see nothing there in a cursory look; I do not own Caroline’s My Aunt Jane Austen, but have searched through MA Austen-Leigh’s Personal Aspects of Jane Austen and find no mention of ‘fairfax’ or ‘churchill’ – so I throw open the question for discussion:

Did Jane Fairfax, according to Jane Austen, not long survive her marriage??

One thought on “A Jane Fairfax Conundrum

  1. Hi Kelly,

    I checked my “Jane Austen: A Family Record” (c 1989; Barnes & Noble, 1996; revised and enlarged by Deirdre Le Faye): on page 216, in the sentence after your quote above: “…According to a less known tradition, the delicate Jane Fairfax lived only another nine or ten years after her marriage to Frank Churchill.” If you check the original 1913 edition of the Family Record (which is full-text online), this is on page 307, and states the same, and goes on to say that “whether Frank Churchill married again may be a legitimate subject for speculation.” [ This passage is also quoted and cited in the same Persuasions, vol. 29, p. 100 in the article “Jane Austen, Jane Fairfax, and Jane Eyre” by Jocelyn Harris, who cites this comment as being from Family Record p. 307.)

    Hope this helps!
    Janeite Deb


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