Jane Austen wrote letters about a clergyman she had met
A literary historian has written a book claiming Jane Austen may have become romantically involved with a clergyman while on holiday in Devon.
Although the author never married, the romantic content of many of her novels has fuelled speculation about her life and relationships.
Dr Andrew Norman claims Austen met up with Rev Samuel Blackall in 1802, while she was staying in Sidmouth.
He said his theory was based on Austen's letters and county records.
Dr Norman, whose biography Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love was published recently, said: "I was puzzled by the fact that Jane Austen wrote about love and people getting together and the anguish involved in that.
"I thought I'd have a look at her own life to see what it was like."
Jane Austen is thought to have had a relationship with Thomas Lefroy, who may have been the inspiration for the character of Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, when she was 21.
Their friendship was depicted in the 2007 film Becoming Jane.
But Dr Norman believes that after Mr Lefroy returned to Ireland she was introduced to Samuel Blackall, a young clergyman, in 1798.
"It looks from Jane's letters that she would have liked to have gone further with him," Dr Norman commented.
"But he disappeared for a while.
"According to family accounts, four years later she was staying with her parents in south Devon when she met up with a clergyman who was staying with his brother, a doctor, in Totnes."
Dr Norman said he then searched the Devon County records.
Mr Blackall was staying with his brother in Totnes
"To my amazement I found a Dr Blackall in Totnes at the exact time Jane was staying near there."
The records showed Dr Blackall had an older brother called Samuel.
He said Rev Blackall was "interested in making a nearer acquaintance" with Ms Austen but that he later went on to marry someone else.
"Jane wrote some fairly sarcastic comments about the marriage, as if it was sour grapes," said Dr Norman.
He also claimed that Ms Austen may have had a rival for Rev Blackall's affections in her sister Cassandra.
"In one novel she describes a bitter rivalry between two sisters and she wrote a poem entitled Cassandra , also about rivalry."
Love, says the poem, "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."