The relationship portrayed in Pride and Prejudice between Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy is one of the most famous and loved romantic relationships in English literature. What is a little less well-known, however, is the real life people who are thought to have inspired these characters.
Aloof and Excitable
Mr Darcy comes across as aloof and unconcerned with social graces, which other characters in the novel see as proud. Part of this pride comes from the fact that he is extremely wealthy, with an income of £10,000 per year (perhaps $300,000 in today's money). Mr Darcy is the Pride referenced in the book's title.
Elizabeth on the other hand is the complete opposite. She is witty and quick to judge, and in a much lower class than Mr Darcy as her father only earns £2,000 per year (approx. $65,000 today). Elizabeth is the Prejudice in the book's title.
The two only finally come together when they each overcome their pride and their prejudice.
It is thought by some literary historians that the relationship between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth echoes one of Jane Austen's own. During 1796, the year in which Pride and Prejudice was written, Austen met and had a short courtship with an Irish politician called Thomas Langlois Lefroy.
Thomas Lefroy was an Member of Parliament in the Irish government, and eventually became the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, one of the most senior judges in the country.
Austen mentions Lefroy in a couple of her letters to her sister, "dancing and sitting down together" with him at three balls, and describing him as a "very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man".
Unfortunately, the courtship between Austen and Lefroy only lasted a short time. In another letter less than a week after the last, Austen says "the day is come on which I am to flirt my last with Tom Lefroy, and when you receive this it will be over. My tears flow as I write at the melancholy idea".
There is evidence that Austen continued to think of Lefroy, as she comments in a letter two years later that he had returned to Ireland "where he is called to the Bar and means to practise".
Lefroy later married a lady called Mary Paul, and his first daughter with her he named Jane Christmas Lefroy. There are some who think that he named her after Jane Austen, though others claim that she was in fact named after Mary Paul's mother, Lady Jane Paul.
There is debate as to how much of an influence Thomas Lefroy was on the character of Mr Darcy. While it may not be true, it is nice to think that one of the most loved romantic pair in English literature may in fact be at least partially based on real history.