“It is safer to leave people to their own devices… Everybody likes to go their own way—to choose their own time and manner of devotion.”
Harris Bigg-Wither, heir to the great Mandydown House and a large fortune, was the one man we know for certain who proposed marriage to Jane Austen.
Bigg-Wither had three sisters who were close friends of Jane and Cassandra.
Jane wrote to Cassandra, two years before the proposal: “Harris seems still in a poor way, from his bad habit of body; his hand bled again the other day.”
In 1802, when Jane was twenty-seven years old, she and Cassandra visited Mandydown. There, Bigg-Wither, five years her junior, proposed to Jane.
Jane accepted his offer of marriage.
The future seemed bright. Jane would marry into a wealthy family; she would become mistress of a large estate, and she would assure financial security for her entire family.
After approximately twelve hours of excruciating inner turmoil—for she did not love Bigg-Wither— Jane rescinded her acceptance of Bigg-Wither’s offer.
That morning, Jane and Cassandra hastily left Mandydown.
Why Jane rejected Bigg-Wither’s proposal are pure theory. If Jane wrote any letters explaining her choice, they were destroyed.
Big-Withers, two years after Jane refused him, married an heiress. Eventually they had ten children and he lived the life of a country squire.
For Jane, there were other suitors.