An author claims to have identified the man who inspired Jane Austen to create Mr Darcy – a ”tall, dark, brooding” aristocrat who became caught in a sex scandal.
Dr Susan Law says the intense, charming and often controversial 1st Earl of Morley John Parker was the real-life hero of Pride and Prejudice.
She says Austen spent at the Earl’s home in Saltram House in Plymouth, Devon, during the period she wrote the literary masterpiece in the early 1800s.
The Earl’s second wife Francis was also a very close friend of the celebrated writer.
It was widely believed in literary circles at the time that Francis was in fact the author of Pride and Prejudice as it had originally been written anonymously.
But Susan, 52, of Kenilworth, Warwickshire, has pieced together letters and documents which she says proves John Parker was the man who inspired Fitzwilliam Darcy.
She has made her claims in her new book ‘Through the Keyhole: Sex, Scandal and the Secret Life of the Country House’ published by The History Press.
Susan said: ”The physical similarities in them are obvious but there is also so much circumstantial evidence to suggest the Earl was Mr Darcy.
“When Jane Austin published her two novels Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, she did so anonymously.
“The Earl’s second wife Francis, who was well known in literally circles, was widely thought to be the author of those novels.
“The Earl was tall, dark, handsome and slightly brooding. There is a picture of him in 1805 image in his militia uniform and another in the library. He looks very intense.”
Susan, a journalist and historian, spent five years researching the book, travelling all over the country to unearth old letters, diaries and newspapers.
She spent many hours in archives reading material on John Parker, 1st Earl of Morley.
She said: “We don’t have the concrete evidence but I have discovered there were a lot of rumours about at the time and it is a convincing argument.
“There is a massive intriguing web around it. It is clear that Jane Austen had very close links with the family. She sent Francis one of the first editions of Emma – when she only had 12 printed.
“Jane Austin’s brother Henry was also a university friend of the Earl of Morley. They were contemporaries and he then become a banker to his regiment and later the domestic chaplain to the Earl of Morley’s family.
“We know how close Jane Austen and Francis were. She never came out and said ‘your husband was Mr Darcy‘ – so we can not say that 100 per cent.
“It can be very frustrating and it is like trying to piece together a jigsaw. It has been fascinating and I have been longing to find that cast iron bit of evidence.
“But after spending so long on it, I am pretty convinced.”
Susan said there was also evidence that Austin based other plots in her novels around the Earl and his family.
Before he met Francis, he was involved in a sordid sex scandal that led to divorce, which is thought to be behind a famous plot in another of Jane Austin’s booked Mansfield Park.
He sued his first wife for adultery after she eloped with a family friend, after finding out he had three illegitimate sons by his married mistress, the book reveals.
His divorce was seized on by the press in a media frenzy that Jane Austin would have been well aware of.
Susan said: “There was a media frenzy over this. The original adultery is generally believed to have been behind the adultery plot in Mansfield Park.”
The Earl’s family country estate at Saltram is now owned by the National Trust. Through the Keyhole is published this month by The History Press.