A “Lost Portrait” of Jane Austen?

This post is originally posted on Literary Bex (the Tumblr) as a part of my run on Jane Austen and her novel Sense and Sensibility.  Feel free to follow the links to my Tumblr and my essay on Austen’s debut novel and the paths available to women in Regency England.

This drawing is believed to be a “lost” portrait of Jane Austen, author of Sense and Sensibility, that was purchased at an auction by Austen scholar Dr. Paula Byrne’s husband, Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate, as a gift for his wife.

The drawing was believed to be an “imaginary portrait” — one drawn from the artist’s memory, or how he or she thought Austen might look — but Dr. Byrne believes Austen actually sat for the drawing while the artist sketched her.  She approached the BBC and together they researched the drawing culminating in a documentary called ‘Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait?‘.  Before this picture the only likeness anyone had to go on are sketches done by Austen’s sister Cassandra.

Dr. Byrne’s new Austen biography, The Real Jane Austen, is said to show a tougher, grittier, socially aware Austen than previous biographies that paint Austen as a genteel, demure, kind-spinster-aunt sort of person.  But really, does anyone truly believe the sweet, naive, idealist as portrayed in that Anne Hathaway movie?  Based on her novels it is much more likely that Austen was not the demure “dear Aunt Jane”, as people like to say, but more of the feisty, opinionated, possibly mouthy Aunt Jane that, if they had existed, would be riding motorcycles and jumping out of airplanes.


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