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.

The Amorous Effects of Brass


First, the good news, which no doubt most of our Gentle Readers have heard by now: Jane Austen will be on the UK ten-pound note beginning in 2017!


We experienced a mix of emotions upon hearing the news, from delight at this recognition of our favorite author, to a giggle over the delicious irony of Jane Austen on money. (We mentioned that on Twitter and had W.H. Auden’s lines about Austen quoted back to us:

You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of the middle-class
Describe the amorous effects of ‘brass’,
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.

Precisely.) However, in general delight predominated. Even some general snarkiness on the Internet–from complaints about the use of one of the portraits “inspired” by Cassandra’a watercolor, which we suspect was chosen because it is in the public domain, to the choice of the quote to appear on the bill, which is a quote from Caroline Bingley that sounds good out of context like that, but in reality, as so much of Austen does, means nearly the opposite of what it appears to mean. (We would have preferred “I write only for Fame and without any view to pecuniary Emolument.” But no one would know that was sarcastic, either, so maybe not.) We wear on a nearly daily basis a bracelet with a quotation from Pride and Prejudice, “Indulge your imagination in every possible flight.” It sounds terribly inspiring and profound; but of course it is from Elizabeth’s letter to Mrs. Gardiner to announce her engagement to Mr. Darcy, and she is being very silly and Lizzy-like, not at all profound. We like the bracelet the better for it having a completely out-of-context quotation. It makes us enjoy the whole thing so much more! So let’s all just smile over the quotation, and keep our little joke to ourselves; it seems so much more Jane Austenish to us. And of course there were complaints from the Great Unwashed (that is, the non-Janeites) that Herself shouldn’t have been chosen at all; to which we say, considering how much money Austen brings to the UK in tourist dollars and filmmaking budgets, we can think of few who deserve it more.

Sadly, while Janeiteville was celebrating, some more sinister things were going on. The woman who headed the campaign to have Jane Austen (and more women in general) pictured on British money, Caroline Criado-Perez, received rape threats via Twitter from idiots who are too witless to even make a proper Austen villain. Fortunately, a man has been arrested in connection with the threats, and Twitter is taking steps to make it easier to report such abuse.

We suspect the excitement will die down somewhat until the new bills are finally circulated in 2017. Overall, we think this is a good thing, for Jane Austen and for Janeiteville. JANE AUSTEN MONEY!!! Ten thousand a year! We shall go distracted!