When TV historian Lucy Worsley’s insisted that the famous and beloved author of Pride and Prejudice never had sex with a man, no one was batted an eyelash. Soon after, however news stories suggesting that Austen had had sex with women instead began popping up with predictable regularity, reports Danuta Keane.
It’s not our first, and very likely not our last, obsessive burst of fascination with Austen’s sex life. As Claire Tomalin, a fellow biographer of Austen, told Keane, the claim is “absolute bollocks” and a “tired old nag.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a hack in search of a headline cannot resist conjoining Jane Austen’s name with the word ‘lesbian,'” says Keane.
But the urge to speculate about one of England’s most celebrated female authors was inspired by Worsley’s new book, Jane Austen At Home: A Biography, in which she argues that Austen had a greater chance of havig had sex with a woman than a man.
“Here the stakes would have been much lower. Yes, it was frowned on by society. But this was an age where women very often shared beds, and Jane herself frequently records sleeping with a female friend,” Worsley points out.
Still, “may have, could have, would have,” all amount to the same thing: no one knows for sure what Austen was up to behind closed doors, and without any evidence, it is all pure speculation, Keane argues.