It’s probably safe to say that all Janeites have had at least one moment of curiosity about what Jane Austen looked like. We don’t have much to go on–a dashed-off, incomplete, badly faded watercolor by Cassandra Austen is the only authenticated image of Jane Austen’s face, which has both frustrated Austen fans as well as inspiring them to create something better.
Today, the Jane Austen Centre at Bath unveiled a wax figure of Jane Austen, created by sculptor Mark Richards (the BBC has a shorter piece with a video interview of the sculptor), inspired by Melissa Dring’s forensic painting of Austen, done several years ago also for the Jane Austen Centre. The painting has received a mixed reception from Janeites, and we are not terribly fond of it, but we like this wax figure rather better. In fact, we like it quite a bit.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. We feel like the face is too angular. Austen was described by several people who knew her as having a “round” face, or at least round cheeks. There is something of that in the waxwork, but still, to us the chin is too pointy and the cheeks a bit sunken.
We heard some complaints on Facebook that the figure’s hair color was wrong, too light for Jane. Her hair has been described as auburn, so we’re okay with the hair color, but others have said they think of it as darker–and you know, that’s okay, too. In Cassandra’s portrait, the hair and eyes are the most complete and detailed parts, and the hair was certainly darker, more brown than red. We would like to see a hair color that is not necessarily darker, but is richer. It’s not so much that it’s too light, but it’s kind of washed-out, like she’s been shampooing with something containing sulfates. (Paging Chaz Dean!) We hope the folks that put this together didn’t take too much inspiration from the sadly faded lock of Austen’s hair on display at Jane Austen’s House Museum. The fading is quite obvious and, we suspect, extensive.
Austen’s costume was designed by Andrea Galer, who has designed costumes for several Austen-related films. We love the fabric, but the gown seems quite thin and low-cut; there’s a little too much of “modern interpretation of period fashion” about it, in our opinion. More bluntly, she needs a chemisette before she catches a cold, or scandalizes the neighborhood.
A while back, we wrote a Closer Look post here on the blog about images of Jane Austen. We think the overview stands up pretty well (and in fact used it as the basis of a shorter piece on the subject in our upcoming book), particularly the bit at the end about our own thoughts about what Jane Austen looked like.
The actress Anna Chancellor, who played Caroline Bingley in P&P 1995, is descended from Jane’s brother Edward. We think she very possibly bears a family resemblance to her famous aunt.
So how does the wax figure hold up against this bold and even reckless declaration?
Things that make you go hmmmmmm!
What do you think of the wax figure, Gentle Reader?