When Jane was 17, Eliza returned to Steventon again, alone after her mother had died, and her husband had returned to France. At first there was constraint after the earlier estrangement but by October they were on easy terms again. Eliza realized for the first time that Henry was to be a clergyman. Eliza opposed Henry becoming a parson. Henry was again in thrall to Eliza. To have a beau from Oxford had a flair to it, but for a rich and elegant Countess to take a parson as a lover would be humiliating. This was not the part Eliza had in mind for Henry. Sounding familiar again?
Jane hadn’t understood the strong sexual attraction between them when she was 11 or 12, but at 17 it was a different matter. She was very concerned about the situation, even more so when Henry changed his mind about being a clergyman and entered the militia. Over the next few years, the fascination of Henry and Eliza continued, developed into an affair, then after Eliza’s husband was killed, they were eventually married.
We know from her earliest surviving letter that at Christmas 1796, aged 20, Jane had a three week flirtation with Tom Lefroy, so Jane knew first hand the issues of flirtation and sexual attraction and had been close to Cassandra’s romance with Tom Fowle. She also knew about the issues of marriage and adultery from Henry and Eliza, and later used this knowledge in Mansfield Park.
So, to summarize, Jane’s education included lessons from her mother; her early experience of illness and tragedy; her two short experiences away at school; her friendship with Anne Lefroy; active play with her brothers and the boarders; putting on plays in the holidays; evening family reading sessions; guided writing sessions with her father; involvement in charades; writing stories, poems, skits and jokes; performing them for the family; reading widely from her father’s library; family discussions of books and their characters; family discussion of neighbourhood and national events; the influence of sophisticated Eliza; learning to play the piano; writing letters to various members of the family; and, the time to write her early pieces, like the one above.
As a culmination of this series of posts about Jane’s education, I feel very thankful that Jane didn’t have a first rate governess, like Miss Lee In Mansfield Park, in the usual way for the time, or go away to a first rate London school, like some of the ladies in the novels. Who knows, she might have turned out like Maria Bertram or Miss Bingley! Perish the thought!