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Myths Exploded


There is no evidence to support the supposed local legend that Jane Austen stayed at the White Horse Inn in Bakewell, Derbyshire, during the period October 1796 to Autumn 1797, while composing Pride and Prejudice, nor that she stayed at its successor, The Rutland Arms in Bakewell, whilst revising the novel during the period winter 1811 to August 1812.


Jane Austen did not become engaged to a Dr Preston, or anyone else for that matter, who died before they could get married.

However, 12 years after Jane's death, Cassandra told her niece, Caroline Austen, (who recorded it in her memoirs) that they had met a gentleman one summer when they were by the sea - she thought Cassandra said Devonshire; she didn't think Cassandra named the place, but she was certain that she did not say Lyme. Caroline supposed they knew each other for some weeks, but could only think that the gentleman was either a visitor or had family living near. He was urgent to know where they would be next summer, implying or perhaps saying that he should be there also, wherever that was.

Caroline says that the impression left on Aunt Cassandra was that he had fallen in love with her sister, and was quite in earnest. Soon afterwards, they heard of his death....Caroline was sure that Cassandra thought he was worthy of her sister from the way in which she recalled his memory, and also that she did not doubt, either, that he would have been a successful suitor.

In the absence of any further evidence from outside sources, Jane's stillborn romance can only remain nameless and dateless, whatever anyone else or any other institution may speculate.


John Parker (1772-1840), 1st Earl of Morley of Saltram, Devon, was not the inspiration for Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen always prided herself on creating characters, not copying them, although she used amalgams of characteristics that she came across.

Jane Austen sent the Earl's 2nd wife, Frances Talbot (whom he married in 1809), a complimentary copy of Emma when published in 1815. Jane Austen's nephew said he did not know if they were personally acquainted, nor the context of Jane's civility. Certainly, Frances's acknowledgement is couched in more formal terms than those likely to be used between friends.

Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, and it was only a recommendation by Frances's friend (that she thought the Earl "was as like as two peas" to Mr Darcy) that persuaded him to read it. The Earl's only response was that "it was very natural". All Frances said was that "he tolerates it". As such, this is hardly a ringing endorsement of her friend's fancy.

It also has to be remembered that Pride and Prejudice was first written in 1796 as an epistolary novel entitled First Impressions, when the character and age of Darcy had, to a degree, been fixed (he was 28 years old); and there is no evidence, nor does it appear likely, that Jane Austen could, or would, have met John Parker at that time. The novel was put aside in 1797 after it was rejected for publication, and it was not until 1811 that Jane Austen started revising it into Pride and Prejudice. The Earl did not read it until its publication in 1813 and when he was 37 years old.