15 minutes of Austen, Part 4 with Emma Clery
Have you heard about the recent finding of a supposed Jane Austen portrait?
Emma is a Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature at the University of Southampton, with responsibilities for developing the link with Chawton House Library, a centre for the study of early women’s writing with a unique collection of rare books. She teaches undergraduate and MA courses based at Chawton and Southampton.
My initial reaction to it was, does it matter? Because it’s the writing that matters. I’m not terribly interested in the way that the Austen image is handed down through the centuries; it’s just not something that gets me going. But having said that, I thought the programme [The BBC’s ‘Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait’] was more interesting than I expected because it had a thesis to it, which was that the only authenticated image we have, a little sketch by her sister Cassandra, has helped to determine our notions of Austen.
This sketch has been sweetened and beautified by the engraver, and used widely as a frontispiece and elsewhere. Paula Byrne’s idea is that it projects a misleading picture of what Austen is about. And this other image, if genuine, projects something much more like a feisty, professional author with pen in hand, a writer located in the city rather than the countryside, interestingly enough.
In the background the scene is somewhere in Westminster near the Houses of Parliament. There were all sorts of interesting suggestions in the programme about why that was a significant area for her, she went to London quite a lot to stay with her brother Henry, who was a banker.
So she knew something of London fashionable life and she was much more hard-headed as an author than has been credited. So I thought there were quite telling theories around this portrait. There is something surprising and rather shocking about the fact that her family apparently arranged no portrait of her.
The idea about this new possible portrait is that she had it done secretly and the rest of her family didn’t know about it, which would explain why there was no family record of it. I think it is an intriguing discussion.
Click on this link to read the original BBC article about the much-discussed Jane Austen portrait: BBC News Entertainment.
Featured image: Portrait of Jane Austen by James Andrews, commissioned by James Edward Austen-Leigh in 1869, via the Guardian.
15 minutes of Austen, Part 3 with Emma CleryNext Article
Jane Austen and the Pleasure Garden’ a walking tour of Bath with Dr Moira Rudolf
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