Jane Austen & D’Arcy Wentworth: did a Sydney surgeon steal her heart?

Jane Austen & D’Arcy Wentworth: did a Sydney surgeon steal her heart? By Babette Smith. Well, this is the Wentworth Report — though it is very different from the normal fare.

D’Arcy Wentworth came to Australian on the Second Fleet, and is the father of William Charles Wentworth after whom this blog is named (see the About page, down the bottom).

Did Jane Austen (1775-1817) have an Australian connection? In “Jane & D’Arcy,” Australian author Wal Walker makes the groundbreaking claim that colonial surgeon D’Arcy Wentworth (1762-1827) was the love of her life.

Austen readers have long detected the complex emotional experience revealed in her writing is at odds with the portrait created by relatives of an unworldly, withdrawn, utterly ­respectable spinster aunt.

Their protestations that there was nothing to tell have always prompted the question: What are you hiding? But the identity of who she did love, and whether it was one man or just flirtations, as the family claimed, has never been satisfactorily established.

By juxtaposing extensive research into Wentworth’s life with the emotions, characters and events in Austen’s writing, Walker makes a very creditable case for the Irish-born Sydney colonial doctor as the object of her passionate love. …

Allusions to the Wentworths permeate Austen’s work, beyond the choice of Darcy and Wentworth as names. Lord Fitzwilliam’s name is combined with the character of his brother George: ‘‘in person and address most truly the gentleman … there was a softness in Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners”. Other family associations include names such as Watson, Woodhouse, Ferrers, Bertram and Musgrave, whose context has been unknown until now. A further link is D’Arcy’s friend William Wickham, a young lawyer whose home was near a village named Bingley.

Walker believes “Jane had a great desire to hear and to say D’Arcy’s name aloud. By making Darcy a surname, she gave her characters the freedom to speak it without reserve. By this means she ensured his name and her great love for him have resounded across the years.’’

He demonstrates how the timing of the romance fits with Austen’s recorded movements and with the highs and lows of Wentworth’s situation before he self-transported to Botany Bay after one too many acquittals for highway robbery. …

Through a close reading of Austen and a deep knowledge of Wentworth’s life, Walker demonstrates where and when they might have met, and what brought them together. Austen’s writing reveals knowledge of significant aspects of his life. …

Walker found no explicit document to prove Wentworth was Austen’s ‘‘missing’’ love. He has however marshalled impressive circumstantial evidence to demonstrate that he could have been: the opportunities for them to meet, the family connection to create a special bond, the availability of long-distance emissaries between the two, such as Captain Hunter and others from Australia. His research revealed a crucial gap of three years in Austen’s letters. And it highlights the comment made by Austen’s niece 68 years later when she wrote of ‘‘some peculiar comings and goings coinciding exactly with what my Mother more than once told me of that affair’’.