“You’ll be fascinated to learn (from me that hates novels) that I finally got round to Jane Austen and went out of my mind over Pride & Prejudice which I can’t bring myself to bring back to the library till you find me a copy of my own.” – Letter from Helene Hanff to Frank Doel at Marks & Co., Booksellers, May 11, 1952, as quoted in the book 84, Charing Cross Road, which if you haven’t read you should do so immediately
“The process by which academic critics deprecate Austenian admirers outside the academy is very similar to the way…trekkies, fans, and mass media enthusiasts are derided and marginalized by dominant cultural institutions bent on legitimizing their own objects and protocols of expertise.” – Claudia L. Johnson, “Austen cults and cultures,” The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen
Once again the Janeite world (and the Muggle press that insists on blowing these things all out of proportion) are creating a controversy out of nothing over images of Jane Austen.
Sotheby’s is auctioning a fake portrait of Jane Austen next month. As fake portraits go, this one is probably slightly less fake than some others. It was commissioned by James Edward Austen-Leigh to be used to create an engraving as a frontispiece to Austen-Leigh’s 1869 Memoir of his aunt. The painting was done by James Andrews of Maidenhead by tracing Cassandra Austen’s watercolor portrait of her sister. The engraving was later used as the basis of perhaps the best-known image of Austen, the infamous “wedding ring portrait” included in a book of eminent persons.
There has been some concern expressed by our own correspondents over this sale, as it is feared it will share the near-fate of Jane Austen’s turquoise ring, purchased and taken out of the country rather than added to a public collection; it would probably be nearly impossible to mount a second rescue mission by Janeites and the museum at Chawton as was done for the ring. However, we find it difficult to get very upset about the fate of this portrait. It is a nice little painting, and that’s it. It wasn’t taken from life, thought it was traced from a portrait that was so taken. However, in the dearth of such images taken from life, Janeites have created new icons of our favorite author. The painting certainly deserves to be part of a museum collection dedicated to Austen. It is to be hoped that whoever purchases it can preserve and display it for all to enjoy.
This portrait has been in the news lately in other ways, as the engraving created from it was used as the basis for the image of Austen that will appear on the British ten-pound bill in a couple of years. Biographer Paula Byrne has been all over the press of late complaining about the portrait chosen for the banknote. Prof. Byrne has previously been recorded as quite passionate on the subject of images of Austen. She feels that the portrait makes Jane appear “saccharine” and that it is an “airbrushing” of Cassandra’s original portrait, and perpetuates Austen’s family’s whitewashing of her personality. We understand Prof. Byrne’s passion on the subject, though most Austen fans, scholars, and attentive readers know better than to consider Jane Austen a sweet, retiring spinster. However, we think that the portrait was chosen for a very simple reason: it is in the public domain. Cassandra’s portrait is owned by the National Portrait Gallery and it cannot be used without its permission, and probably without paying a hefty licensing fee.
All that being said–yes, let’s pick a different Austen quotation for the banknote! We still think the best one would be “I write only for Fame and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.” However, the Muggle public would probably not recognize Austen’s delightful snark.
Check out our previous post, A Closer Look at Images of Jane Austen.
Early in Joanna Trollope’s modern-set rewrite of Sense and Sensibility, Fanny Dashwood sweeps into Norland, which she is going to run as a commercial concern (a B&B), and tosses out the rumpled, genteel, shabby-chic furnishings, replacing them with shiny sleek modern decor.
And they say irony is dead.
When we first heard about what Harper is calling The Austen Project, we were intrigued by the idea, but had a difficult time figuring out what Harper was trying to accomplish. Read more…
This week’s lesson, from Northanger Abbey, Vol. I Ch. VI:
Catherine, in some amazement, complied, and after remaining a few moments silent, was on the point of reverting to what interested her at that time rather more than anything else in the world, Laurentina’s skeleton, when her friend prevented her, by saying, — “For Heaven’s sake! let us move away from this end of the room. Do you know, there are two odious young men who have been staring at me this half hour. They really put me quite out of countenance. Let us go and look at the arrivals. They will hardly follow us there.”
Away they walked to the book; and while Isabella examined the names, it was Catherine’s employment to watch the proceedings of these alarming young men.
“They are not coming this way, are they? I hope they are not so impertinent as to follow us. Pray let me know if they are coming. I am determined I will not look up.”
In a few moments Catherine, with unaffected pleasure, assured her that she need not be longer uneasy, as the gentlemen had just left the Pump-room.
“And which way are they gone?” said Isabella, turning hastily round. “One was a very good-looking young man.”
“They went towards the church-yard.”
“Well, I am amazingly glad I have got rid of them! And now, what say you to going to Edgar’s Buildings with me, and looking at my new hat? You said you should like to see it.”
Catherine readily agreed. “Only,” she added, “perhaps we may overtake the two young men.”
“Oh! Never mind that. If we make haste, we shall pass by them presently, and I am dying to shew you my hat.”
“But if we only wait a few minutes, there will be no danger of our seeing them at all.”
“I shall not pay them any such compliment, I assure you. I have no notion of treating men with such respect. That is the way to spoil them.”
Catherine had nothing to oppose against such reasoning; and therefore, to shew the independence of Miss Thorpe, and her resolution of humbling the sex, they set off immediately as fast as they could walk, in pursuit of the two young men.
When public attention-seeking is obvious and disingenuous, it can appear ugly to some; and to some it is as natural as breathing. Miss Thorpe, clearly, is one of the latter. Here endeth the lesson.
The publication of Jo Baker’s new novel Longbourn generated the same sort of excitement as the arrival of a single gentleman of good fortune. It has been described as being a cross between Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. When we heard this premise, we were all admiration. What a brilliant idea! Two of the most wildly popular and well-known popular culture properties–now together! It might be the greatest idea since some genius combined chocolate and peanut butter. The Commercial Publishing Industrial Complex has predictably lost its mind over it; frankly, we are astonished that its publication did not rip open the fabric of the universe, creating a giant black hole that sucked us all into it.
While this soundbyte selling point makes it simple for publishers and booksellers, we think it has done the authoress a disservice. We think Ms. Baker was shooting for something less mercenary and more ambitious: the Wide Sargasso Sea of the Jane Austen oeuvre; by which we mean a paraliterature title that strives for literary achievement as well as, or perhaps even more than, popularity. We have long wondered why no one has written such a novel. Sadly, Longbourn did not work for us, either as ambitious literary fiction or as a P&P/Downton mashup. There is nothing of the elegance of Downton Abbey, and a Pride and Prejudice that we do not recognize. Read more…