Eternal spinster Jane Austen “never slept with a man” but may have had lesbian sex, historian claims

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Anna Brech
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Despite her obsession with men and manners, author Jane Austen probably never slept with a man – and instead, was far more likely to have enjoyed lesbian sex.

The extraordinary revelation was made in Jane Austen at Home, a new biography of the beloved romance author by historian Lucy Worsley.

Worsley says her position as gentry in the social structure of Georgian Britain meant Pride and Prejudice novelist Austen was very unlikely to have had sex with a man.

“People often long to know if the eternal spinster Jane Austen ever had sex with a man,” she writes, in an excerpt quoted by

“The answer is almost certainly not… for a female member of the gentry, or pseudo-gentry, a pregnancy outside marriage would have been world shattering.”

In an appearance at the Hay festival this weekend, Worsley adds that women “lower down the social scale” from Austen often had sex before marriage in Georgian Britain, while aristocrats “took affairs pretty lightly”.

But Austen, she says, occupied “tricky position in society” as a member of the middle classes.

But as far as sex with a woman was concerned, Worsley says, “the stakes would have been much lower” for Austen.

“Yes, it was frowned on by society,” she says. “But this was an age where women very often shared beds, and Jane herself frequently records sleeping with a female friend.”

“People were much less worried about lesbian sex in general,” the historian says. “It wasn’t pursued in the law courts, or policed against by the matrons of polite society.

“This was not least because many of them didn’t quite believe that it was even possible. So that door of possibility may remain ajar.”

Austen is widely considered one of Britain’s greatest writers.

This isn't the first time historians have pondered why such a prolific observer of passion never found her own Mr. Darcy. 

Other accounts have noted that she fell for a young Irishman and a mysterious clergyman in her younger years, but neither suitor – described in letters to her sister Cassandra – worked out.

Family friend Harris Bigg-Wither proposed to Austen when she and her sister were staying with him in 1802, and she accepted. Then, “after what can only have been a dark night of the soul”, she changed her mind and hastily ordered a carriage back to Bath.

“It could be argued that if there were any hint of lesbianism in Jane’s make-up then surely she would simply have not accepted the offer in the first place, or else would not have changed her mind (enjoying the financial security the marriage brought, while at the same time free to pursue those other erstwhile activities),” author Emma Mason notes, in a piece for History Extra.

Whatever the truth, historians are in agreement that Austen is not the “prim, demure, sedate, prudish” maiden she often exists as, in readers’ imaginations.

She “knew more than many people realise about what was considered at the time to be deviant sex,” Worsley says.

Photos: Rex Features


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.