Two centuries after her untimely death, Persuasion author Jane Austen continues to surprise and delight us. According to documents that will go on exhibition in May, Jane Austen faked her marriage twice by writing entries in the Steventon marriage register during the late 18th century. This, my friends, is the good side of fake news.
The Reverend George Austen took the rectorship of Steventon, Hampshire sometime after he married Cassandra Leigh in 1764. Cassandra gave birth to Jane, the seventh of eight children, in 1775. Historians at the Hampshire Archives believe Jane wrote fake entries in the Steventon marriage register as a "mischievous" teenager in the late 1780s and early 1790s.
Perhaps most shocking to anyone who believes in the gentility of the era, Jane Austen's two fake marriages were to different men: Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam of London and Edmund Arthur William Mortimer of Liverpool. It is unclear whether either name belongs to a real person, although Pride and Prejudice fans will no doubt notice that Mr. Darcy's Christian name, Fitzwilliam, was on Jane's mind several years before she began writing her most famous novel.
It's important to note that Jane Austen wrote her marriage announcements "in the specimen entries in the front of the [register]," not among the legitimate documents. In Fitzwilliam's case, she crossed out the sample initials and wrote in the names and homeplaces of herself and her "husband."
Jane Austen did not marry before her death in 1817 at the age of 41. Her falsified wedding entries will be on display this summer in the Mysterious Miss Austen exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre from May 13 through July 24.