Broken Hearts

Jane Austen's Mystery Suitor

The mystery of who broke Jane Austen's heart and drove a wedge between the Austen sisters has plagued fans and scholars for some time. In his new biography, Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love, Dr. Andrew Norman says he's finally discovered the answer: one Dr. Samuel Blackall, a clergyman who first caught Austen's eye in 1798 when he was a guest of mutual friends. According to Dr. Norman, Blackall's letters to friends indicate his interest in her, but Austen felt his uncertainty was a snub and their acquaintance fell off. Four years later, as if scripted by Austen herself, they picked up again after a chance meeting in a market town, although Austen and her sister Cassandra went on to battle for Blackall's affections. Few of Austen's letters from that period survive to tell definitively whether Blackall is the mystery man. However, Dr. Norman argues that Austen's literary work from around that time supports his point. Her 1804 book The Watsons explores a love affair destroyed by a sister, and a 1807 poem titled “Miss Austen (Cassandra)” says that love "is the cause of many woes/ It swells the eyes and reds the nose/ And very often changes those/ Who once were friends to bitter foes."