All we can be reasonably sure of is that at Sidmouth Jane met a young gentleman who showed signs of being extremely attracted by her. We do not know his name nor his profession, though there is a suggestion that he was a clergyman. We do know that he was handsome, intelligent and possessed of unusual charm; so much so that Cassandra, who hardly ever praised anybody, praised him warmly and even thought him good enough for her sister Jane. – A Portrait of Jane Austen, p. 97
When fans think of Austen’s great love, our thoughts immediately turn to Tom Lefroy. But it was a different man that inspired Aerendgast, and the alternate history that I’ve written for Austen. I came across the above passage in David Cecil’s wonderful book five years ago. I had already taken an entire course on Austen at college but had never heard of this mysterious man she encountered at Sidmouth in 1801. Something about the story, perhaps the lack of details, immediately intrigued me. I’ve always wondered how, without a great love herself, Austen was able to chronicle its triumphs and despairs so truthfully in her books. Lefroy was never this love. Jane wrote about him often enough, but with complete indifference. While some have argued that Jane couldn’t have expressed her true feelings knowing that multiple eyes would see her letters, I would argue, using her characters as the proof, that she had passion enough not to worry about such conventions if she had truly loved someone.
Jane and the mysterious young man met at Sidmouth and during their short acquaintance there, fell in love. We don’t know his name, but sources tend to agree that he was a clergyman.
It was understood that he would soon come back and join the family again. Cassandra had no doubt that he would then state his intentions and that Jane would receive them favourably. – Cecil, p. 97
The love story ended quite tragically when the Austen’s received word that Jane’s betrothed-to-be died suddenly. However, this is where the story in Aerendgast truly begins. What if this mysterious man had lived? What if he and Jane were secretly married after all?
Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen is set to be released in a few short weeks! Check back for updates.