Back in October, I attended the 2015 Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America, held in Louisville, Kentucky. I have reported here on several of the presentations there (Ship’s Surgeon, JASNA  AGM Tidbits,  Mary Crawford at Almack’s?,  Age of Caricature,  men’s clothing) and associated jaunts to Locust Grove, the Kentucky Horse Park, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.

One of my favorites of the Special Interest talks at the AGM was “Thomasina’s Notebook and Thomas Lefroy’s House: Life of a Young Woman in Austen’s Dublin.”

Glynis Ridley, PhD, Professor of English, at the University of Louisville

Dr. Ridley spoke about a book found in a Paris Flea Market by her husband, and the fascinating mystery she is uncovering.

A commonplace book is a compendium of poems, prose excerpts, original observations, and daily commentary often belonging to a young woman of some status in the Georgian era. She might write in it herself, or ask various friends and acquaintances to enter material.

Literary historians have found many examples of commonplace books.

When he brought the book to his wife, Dr. Ridley’s husband was not fully aware of just what he had discovered. Only after considerable research has Dr. Ridley begun to unravel the stories of the owner and her family. And even more exciting, she discovered a link with Jane Austen.

The notebook belonged to Thomasina, daughter of Thomas Gleadowe-Newcomen, 2nd Viscount Newcomen (1776–1825) and his long-time mistress Harriet Holland, who bore him eight children. Like peeling an onion, layer by layer, more mysteries are revealed.

Newcomen was an unmarried banker and lived in a grand Dublin mansion with Harriet and their children; why did he and Harriet never marry? Obviously, from clues in Thomasina’s commonplace book, the family associated with Dublin’s leading citizens, some of whom wrote in the book. They lived together as a family in a fine Dublin mansion, and their country home was  Carrigglass, aka Carrickglass, about which more later.

The former Newcomen Bank, Lord Edward Street, Dublin

In 1825, the Newcomen Bank failed and Lord Newcomen killed himself, at age 48. Still to be tracked down are the movements of Harriet and her children, at first to France, then back to England.  In later years, where did they all end up, and particularly what happened to Thomasina? Dr. Ridley has a few leads and perhaps some clues, and we await her findings eagerly.

And now for the Jane Austen connection, a serendipitous a matter indeed. Carrigglass, the country home of the Newcomens, was purchased by Thomas Lefroy (17876-1869) in the 1820’s after the demise of the bank and its owner. Thomas Lefroy was the student whose flirtation with Jane Austen in 1796 has been the object of much attention in the last few years, turned into a romantic film (Becoming Jane, 2007).  After his “interlude” in Hampshire with Jane, Thomas Lefroy returned to Dublin, became a member of the bar and eventually Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. In 1837, he had the house rebuilt in the Tudoresque style.  He and his descendants lived at Carrigglass until its sale in  2005.

Carrigglass, Co. 

As a sad postscript about this property, one version of the wretched fate of Cairrgglass, can be found here.

Dr, Ridley certainly presented us with a fascinating account of her research mysteries and the need for further investigation. Along the way, she presented many comparisons to the characters in Jane Austen’s novels. We could easily identify a Marianne (SandS) and a Harriet Smith (Emma).  We continue to wonder, did Harriet Holland or Thomasina ever find themselves a Mr. Darcy or a Mr. Knightley?

Previous books by Glynis Ridley:

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