In the year 1797, Jane Austen’s beloved sister Cassandra became engaged to a former pupil of her father’s at Steventon, Thomas Craven Fowle of Allington. He was a student at Steventon as early as 1779, when Cassandra was only six years old, suggesting that Tom was several years older than his fiance. Tom accompanied his friend and cousin, Lord Craven, to the West Indies as chaplain to his regiment, where he soon died from illness born of the climate effects.
Tom was mentioned as the intended heir of a living in Shropshire, to which Jane Austen herself makes reference in her private correspondence with her sister when she mentions Cassandra being on a visit there and expresses the likelihood that the situation should soon become a permanent fixture.
Tom’s death took an irreparable toll on Cassandra, and she never entertained another thought of marriage or romance. Jane, probably to some extent out of affection and loyalty to her sister, resigned herself to the same fate. Films such as Becoming Jane cite Jane’s sympathy and love for her sister as a huge inspiration for the author, and go so far as to suggest that Cassandra’s plight influenced Jane to craft such happy endings as those of the Bennett sisters’ joint-wedding in Pride and Prejudice and more. Were Jane’s attachment to her sister any weaker, or had the fate of Cassandra’s intended marriage been a happier one, Jane Austen’s life might have pursued a drastically different direction; perhaps she would have pursued a marriage of her own, had she not felt such sympathy in the face of Cassandra’s misfortune.
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Butler, Marilyn. “Austen, Jane (1775–1817).” Marilyn Butler Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2010. 1 Feb. 2016
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Ancestry.com Community. Ancestry.com, 7 Sept. 2013. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.