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Watching this programme, aired on Boxing Day on BBC2, was an odd experience for me. I’ve very deliberately not rushed to judgement on it and have, in fact, viewed it thrice now, in an effort to try to understand my reaction to it and to be fair to it.

I have to say, from the outset, that I do feel rather uncomfortable with the grand claims made during the programme, which I think can be fairly summarised, thus: if it can be proved that the drawing Dr. Paula Byrne bought in the summer at Bonhams, (which is set in a frame marked “Jane Austen 1775-1817” and is inscribed “Miss Jane Austin” on the reverse), is a portrait of Jane Austen made from life, then it will “revolutionise ” the way in which we consider her. We will no longer be influenced by the James Andrew portrait of her, which was commissioned by her family to be inserted into The Memoir written by James Edward Austen-Leigh, published in 1870. In the words of Dr Paula Byrne this portrait makes Jane Austen appear “pretty, prim and dim”.

My problem with this argument is that I think the “Dear Aunt Jane” view of Austen hasn’t prevailed for a long time (expect perhaps, from the evidence presented at the beginning of the programme,with its presenter, Martha Kearney). And surely anyone who reads any of Austen’s works cannot seriously think the author was not a critical observer, an intelligent woman of the world, astute and enough of a genius to be able to take on her society and its ills and wrap her critique of it up in some of the most enduing novels in the English language? Do we still look at the Andrews portrait and its derivatives and think that it compels us to think, as a matter of course, that the woman portrayed was a domesticated booby? Or do we recognise the Victorian pretence behind it? Do we have to have a portrait of her at all? Not as far as I am concerned…but, apparently, I am in a minority here, for the evidence from the programme is that many of us want and need a portrait of Jane Austen, but just not the Andrews’ version.

Though the programme did show the only authenticated portrait of Austen taken during her lifetime by her sister, Cassandra and which is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, it seemed to gloss over this image and concentrated instead on the Andrews image, which, of course, was not taken during Jane Austen’s lifetime, and its derivatives, all of which were held collectively responsible for our “current perception” of Jane Austen as a saintly, domesticated aunt with not a professional thought in her head.

My opinion, for what it is worth, is that the NPG portrait, with all its faults, cannot be described as portraying someone who is dim, pretty or prim. Someone who is angry, annoyed and strong-willed might be more a reasonable description, though I admit that assessment of art is rather subjective. For, in my very humble opinion, the drawing under current discussion merely portrays a pleasant-looking, nicely-dressed woman of the 1810s in the action of writing something – not necessarily a novel- on a sheaf of paper. With a cat. In front of Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s. If it is of her,taken during her lifetime, then what is on display doesn’t add much to our knowledge of Austen and it is still, clearly, an amateur drawing with all its attendant limitations. I am a little suspicious of the grand claims being made for it, which, I suspect, could possibly say more about those who make them and their perceptions of Austen than they ever will for the drawing under discussion

Others certainly think differently. And that is obviously why this programme was made. Paula Byrne’s back story for the portrait -or so it appears to me- is that Jane Austen would have liked to have been portrayed in a portrait as a professional writer. Therefore, she may have sat for this portrait in London between the years of 1813-15, and may have done so secretly, not letting her family know of her desire to be thus portrayed. Hence its failure to be mentioned by the Austen family at all, and this especially explains why they didn’t refer to it in their search for a suitable image to be used in the Bentley editions and in the Memoir. One main candidate for authorship of the drawing is Eliza Chute, of the family who owned The Vyne, and who were friends and patrons of the Austens,  in particular of Jane’s oldest brother, James. At one time Eliza Chute lived in George Street Westminster, within sight of Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church, where, indeed, she was married. The view in the drawing appears to have been the view she had from her home. She was also known to have been a gifted artist and consistently spelt Jane Austen’s surname name as “Austin”. Go here to see some very interesting information about her on Kelly McDonald’s excellent site.

The investigation into the picture as reported in the programme, revealed some points in favour of Dr Byrne’s contention, and some which, to me, do not appear to help at all. I will attempt to summarise them for you.

Forensic tests were made on the vellum and ink used and it was dated as being drawn between 1811 and 1869, the year before the publication of James Edward Austen-Leigh’s Memoir, which contained the infamous engraving derived from the Andrews portrait. The white highlights on the drawing were shown not to be of Zinc White paint, which would have dated it into the late 19th century and onwards, but, instead, showed them to have been made with barium sulphite. This was known commercially as “Constant White” and was superseded by Zinc White in the mid to late 19th century. The ink used in the inscription on the rear of the drawing was thought to be consistent with the composition of inks used in the first part of the 19th century.

The clothes worn by the figure in the drawing were thought to be consistent with fashionable clothing from 1813-15. The woman depicted in the picture was also thought to be tall, and this would tally with Anna Austen Lefroy’s description of Jane Austen. Anna, Jane’s niece, described her as ” tall slender and not drooping”. Anna’s description was relied upon very much throughout the course of the programme. The programme also referenced the Silk Pelisse  held in the Hampshire Museum Service’s collection to support the contention that the woman depicted was tall. It was considered that the owner of this item of clothing would have been above the average woman’s height for the era. That was quoted as being 5 feet 5 inches. The woman who wore this pelisse could  have  been 5 feet 8 inches tall, much taller than average. However, I ought to point out in the interests of fairness that the Hampshire Museums services, who have the pelisse in their collection, are scrupulously fair when describing the provenance of the article. Go here to see. The doubts expressed by them was not as far as I could hear or see, recorded in the programme.

The provenance is problematical, for its existence only became known in the early 1980s. Roy Davids, the dealer who sold the manuscript at Bonham’s in the summer, bought it from the executrix of Sir John Forster M.P and Q.C, a man whose amazing reputation I knew of in the 1980s when I practised law in London. The drawing apparently formed part of his estate. Unfortunately, it would appear that his executrix, who sold the drawing to Mr Davids, destroyed some of Sir John’s private papers (go here to see an account of his fascinating career and this fact) and so the trail to discover the whereabouts of the  portrait prior to the early 1980s has now gone cold and may be further hampered by this fact. An appeal was made during the  programme for anyone with any information to come forward, which I repeat here.

The style of the  portrait was also called into question. According to the art historians and experts consulted, the plumbago technique- applying graphite on vellum- went out of favour circa 1720. This was not explored any further in this programme.

The family resemblance- the Austen nose and Jane Austen’s asymmetrically placed eyes- was subject to modern techniques used to identity criminals from CCTV footage and photographs. I was a little uneasy about this technique, for surely the success or not of using it depends on the skill to the artists involved? A portrait is not as accurate a depiction of a person as a photograph, surely? Can an amateur drawing really be considered a scientific and accurate  representation of someone’s feature?

However, the Austen nose was called into question, as Anna Austen, upon whose description the programme relied upon, clearly states her aunt to have had a “small nose”. The silhouette of “L’aimable Jane” also in the NPG’s collection shows this to be the case. Sadly, it was not referenced in the programme. Paula Byrne also debated whether the use of the word ”small” meant the same in the18th century as it does now. However, I noted that the programme did not dispute the terms “tall” and “slender”, though perhaps that was edited out. These words were also used by Anna Austen in her description of her aunt.

The misspelling of Austen as Austin was discussed. The Chute family and Eliza Chute in particular were shown to have always used this spelling. As did the Countess of Morely and others. And so, it would appear, did Jane Austen herself , at least once, given the evidence from the endorsement on the reverse of a royalties cheque made out by her publisher,  John Murray’s office to “Miss Jane Austin” and which is now in the John Murray archive.

Would Jane Austen have wanted to be portrayed as a writer? Both her biographer, Claire Tomlain and Professor Judith Hawley of Royal Holloway doubted she would have wanted this. The anonymous default position of writers of novels was discussed, for writing novels, as opposed to writing religious tracts, poetry and plays carried with it a slightly disreputable association. Being depicted in a portrait as a writer of novels might not have been quite the thing.

The execution of the portrait was thought to have been made by an amateur who had  received instruction from a master. Apparently the arm of the figure is drawn too long and the head does not sit well enough on the body to have been executed by an expert artist. However, the inclusion of the swag of drapery and the columnar depiction of Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s suggested grandeur, a grandeur beyond the  social milieu in which Jane Austen found  herself as the relatively poor spinster daughter of a gentry family. The column/swag devise is an artistic concept used by artist from Van Dyke onwards in aristocratic and royal portraits. Thus it might be seen to have been included in this drawing as some sort of tribute. Or could its inclusion have been ironic- an in-joke? Interestingly, one of the art historians remarked that the inclusion of such grand buildings as St Margaret’s and Westminster Abbey would have been included in the portrait as some symbolic reference with significance only to the sitter. The woman who may have been the artist, Eliza Chute,  had many associations with that part of London (see above). However the commentary by Martha Kearney, slightly later in the programme, suggested that the  symbolism could apply to both sitter AND the artist. This discrepancy annoyed me though, to be scrupulously fair, it may have been accidental.

I didn’t really like the way that the documentary presented the fact that Jane Austen lived with Henry Austen, her brother in London at Hans Place and Henrietta Street( note Upper Berkeley Street was not mentioned) almost as a revelation. Anyone who reads her novels must surely realise she had a fantastic working knowledge of London and its intimacies, and could only have written about that from her own knowledge, built up by visiting it frequently, over a number of years. Even the most basic biographies of her note she visited London often. The programme seemed to me to try hard to convince us that the world sees Jane Austen as the innocent, uninformed spinster, a constant inhabitant of the small, enclosed Hampshire village of Chawton, and of course we do know –many of us-that was not the case. This was another irritant to me.

No one explained away the presence  of the cat on the table in the drawing or what it might represent.

A final set piece was shown partly to us where Paul Byrne presented her findings to a panel of Austen experts: Deirdre Le Faye, Claudia Johnson of Princeton University  and Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University. I’ll try to present what I think they thought of the drawing. Deirdre Le Faye was clearly unimpressed with the presentation and maintains her stance ( which has been reported since 2007) that this is an imaginary portrait of Jane Austen not taken from life. She also disputed that the Chute connection was as close as Dr Byrne was suggesting, in that she thought Jane Austen may have visited Eliza Chute when in London and had her portrait taken then. Kathryn Sutherland thought the image portrayed was similar to the authenticated image of Austen held in the NPG and that she would be happy to see this as an another image of Jane Austen if it could be authenticated, as, for her, it would refute the  “Godmother of Chick Lit” status that she felt was currently applied to Jane Austen. Claudia Johnson agreed that she would like this to be an image of Jane Austen but interestingly made the point that Le Faye’s argument that the Chutes were not close friends of Jane Austen  added weight to the  argument that the drawing was made by someone who knew of Jane Austen, but who was not in her immediate social circle and that is why the portrait has been unknown, particularly to the Austen family, until the 1980s.

They all agreed that further research had to be undertaken. I do have to say, that for me, this part of the  programme was most uncomfortable to watch.

I have the suspicion that this is not the last programme we shall see on this topic. There are, as you can see many, many more questions to be answered, many that have been raised during the course of this film. There is of course a lot at stake especially for Dr Byrne, and the financial implications are huge. If another film is to be made, perhaps Dr Byrne herself could be persuaded to be the presenter. I found Martha Kearney’s manner of presenting the  programme rather arch and none too serious and I think it set the wrong tone, as it was at odds with some of the evidence being set before us. Ironically, for me, it rather reinforced the impression of Dear Aunt Jane Austen at the head of a cozy heritage industry, and didn’t help the argument that the drawing under discussion depicts her as a professional writer. But as I say this may be merely my reaction.

I have to admit the brouhaha about this new “portrait” has made me think rather deeply about my own responses to the images we have of Jane Austen. I suppose I was lucky in that I was half way though reading the novels in the early 1970s as a 12 year old, before I saw an image of her, and that was the sketch in the NPG. Truth be owned, I like Cassandra’s sketch, and I also like the fact that it sits amongst the massive bow-wow strain of Regency portraits ( mostly of men) in the museum’s Regency Galleries. For, to me, it makes a rather interesting point that, though these sitters were considered important enough to be immortalised in oils by great artists during their life times, Jane Austen, whose fame eclipses nearly everyone portrayed there, is only known to us by this slight, incomplete and amateur sketch. One which cannot, due to its execution, give us much idea as to her real image. The contrast between it and the other portraits is immeasurable. She is as ever, elusive. And I have a suspicion she might just have preferred our impression of her to remain that way.

I do however, sincerely wish Dr Bryne  all the luck in the world with her quest for authenticity. I do hope she is not discouraged by the robust assessment of the drawing by Sir Roy Strong in the programme, for it would be rather pleasant to add another authenticated image of Jane Austen to the tiny collective, even if I’m not as convinced as others as to what more this drawing can tell us about Jane Austen, the professional writer, than can be divined by reading her works.

Amanda Vickery’s latest documentary, on Jane Austen’s fame and how her reputation has spread since her death in 1817, was aired on BBC2 on Christmas Eve, and I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on it.  In the hour-long programme, she told the story of how Jane Austen and her works have come to enjoy such astronomical fame today,  to the point where she is now ubiquitous. And it is an interesting journey, when you seriously consider it.  Just how did the daughter of an obscure cleric, whose works were favoured by a small, elite group in her life time,

and then was almost forgotten…whose birthplace is now destroyed,

whose only authenticated image is tantalisingly vague,

and whose gravestone omitted to mention the fact that she a was a professional, published author of novels,

manage to  become so famous, to the point where the world-wide Jane Austen industry (heritage or otherwise ) is today worth millions, and where one of her incomplete manuscripts, The Watsons, can command a price of almost £1 million at auction?

This story has been told before: Claire Harman’s book, Jane’s Fame:How Jane Austen Conquered the World( 2009), covered this topic quite succinctly  – but this programme was not really meant for Jane aficionados who most probably will have already read the book. It was really aimed, in my opinion, to inform the non-obsessed amongst us (And yes, they do exist!) Those who, perhaps, take for granted that Jane Austen and her vibrant characters have always been so dominantly amongst us, this past 200 years, and may be surprised to learn that this has not really been the case.

This story was told as an interesting illustrated international journey- beautifully shot and Amanda Vickery is always a congenial, intelligent companion. En route we met with academics such as Professor Kathryn Sutherland, who explained away some of the Jane myths, especially those  that surround the “official ” images of her;

Lucasta Millar, shown below in the gloomy graveyard at Haworth with Professor Vickery, explained the Romantic’s attitude to Jane and why they so violently rejected her.

One of the most outspoken critics of her, was, of course,  Charlotte Bronte, hence the filming at Haworth in Yorkshire.

We learnt how the publishing world and in particular, W. H. Smith’s mid championing of the mid to late 19th century cheap  yellow back railway editions of Jane’s novels began to spread the word ( when they were conveniently out of copyright)by offering them via their outlets on stations to the many thousands of bored railway travellers, desperate for some cheap entertainment on interminable  journeys…

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and how her reputation grew amongst a group of aesthetic men, to the point where many men serving in the trenches of World War One found solace in her world, retreating in their heads to her place of safety, thus avoiding the real horrors that daily beset them.

The academic world and its near obsession with her ( Have you ever tried to keep count of the sheer number of academic papers of varying merits that are published about Austen every year? Don’t attempt it, I beg of you…) was addressed and particular emphasis was paid to the important  influence of F. R. Leavis and his wife Queenie

with their pugnacious championing of the English Novel  (and in particular the moral and literary worth of  Jane Austen) in their teaching at Cambridge, and also in his book The Great Tradition (1948) where he boldly asserted that

‘The great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad’.

The importance of the wider media was also acknowledged, and indeed, this is probably the most important factor which has been the enabler of Jane’s extreme fame today. Given the amazing commercial success of film and TV adaptations of her novels, it may stun you to realise that, while Charles Dickens’ works were filmed countless times from the beginning of the cinema industry in the late 19th century, Jane Austen was ignored by Hollywood until the 1940 adaptation of Helene Jerome’s successful Broadway production of Pride and Prejudice, starring Laurence Oliver and Greer Garson.

BBC TV led the way to a certain extent with adaptations of Pride and Prejudice in 1938, 1952, 1958, and 1967,  though this version ( of which I have vague memories) was aired in the Sunday tea-time slot, and was aimed primarily at an audience of children.

The 1980 version by Faye Weldon was broadcast on BBC2, and this, it was argued, was the beginning of Austen’s now massive popularity where TV audiences are concerned. Amanda confessed to finding David Rintoul’s Darcy  particularly attractive…

And, of course, it was in 1995 with Andrew Davis’s version of the novel for  BBC 1( aired this time at  primetime Sunday evening viewing at 9 p.m.)  that a world-wide, very enthusiastic audience was generated.

The documentary included an amusing interview with the incorrigible Andrew Davis, still championing his admittedly successful formula of “sexing-up ” of Austen’s novels, gaily claming she missed a trick in her portrayal of the, to him, rather sexless heroes of Sense and Sensibility( complaints on a postcard to Mr Davis and not to me , if you please)

What I liked most about the programme was its attitude toward the Janeites of today. The annual Bath Regency Promenade, part of the Bath Jane Austen Festival, shown here descending Gay Street , was filmed and most affectionately was it done, too.

The participants interviewed were not depicted (as I had feared) as crazed fans, but as thoughtful but fun-loving people whose interest in Jane had spurred them on to research her era in their own way. The JASNA conference at Fort Worth might have been an easy target for scorn, but Amanda seems to have genuinely enjoyed the experience, and found, I think, to her slight surprise that the audience consisted mainly of powerful, genuine, intelligent women, typified by Dr Cheryl Kinney, below. The point was made that the members of JASNA who came together to share their admiration and love for this author, saw her on many different levels. All interpretations were welcome. This section was a delight.

For the committed Janeite, there was not much new to be learned. But I have done a little market research amongst my Christmas Guests- none of whom are Janites, but  who have endured my obsession for too many years to number here- and they learnt a lot from the documentary. ( Do note that  watching it was not compulsory in this house, but some brave souls did sit through it with me). They had assumed, incorrectly, that Jane’s fame has always been as great as it is now. Their surprise was palpable when they discovered this was not the case. They throughly enjoyed this entertaining and charming history of the cult of Jane.  It was an interesting programme,  and if you do not have access to the BBC Iplayer, where you can watch it again, here, then I do hope it will be made available to you on DVD soon.

This morning Amanda Vickery took part in BBC Radio 4’s Midweek Programme. You can listen to the programme again, here or, download it as a podcast, here. I do hope the those of you outside the UK can hear it via this route. As ever, fingers crossed….

It was a rather lovely edition of the programme today, with the beautiful Martha Fiennes talking about her digitization of The Nativity which will be screened in Covent Garden’s Piazza, and the wonderful Celia Imrie, one of my favourite actresses, who apparently was as lovely, warm and as funny as you would expect her to be.

Amanda was the last guest to be interviewed,( about 34 minutes into the programme). She talked, of course, about her forthcoming documentary, The Many Lovers of Miss Jane Austen, which will be screened on BBC2 on Friday 23rd December at 9 p.m. I thought she defended Jane Austen’s reputation very well,(some of Libby Purvis’s comments made me grind my teeth!My poor teeth! My poor Dentist!!) and also defended we obsessives and our, sometimes(ahem!) strange behaviour, and… she reveals that Captain Wentworth is her favourite hero  ;)

I saw the trailer for the programme last night and it looks to be very rich and interesting .Can’t wait.

My goodness, it’s a very busy week Austen news-wise!

Here is a link to another BBC Hampshire News Report that you will all ( fingers crossed!) be able to see. It concerns the recent move of the Austen-related documents and books in the collection of the Jane Austen Memorial Trust which have been in the care of the Jane Austen Museum.  They have now been removed to the care of the Hampshire Records Office for proper conservation, and-this is the really great news- they have now been digitized so that everyone can access them via a commuter terminal when on a visit to the Hampshire Record Office in Winchester. Go here to see some of the documents concerned

This move will help preserve these precious relics of Jane Austen and her family- the documents include some of her letters and the manuscript music books- for posterity and will also allow more of us to use them for research, without damaging the originals( always my fear when touching original documents, so clumsy am I!)

I have to say that all my dealings with the Hampshire Record Office have been fabulous – in person or by telephone – and I’m certain this is the best place to preserve them for the future.

The Jane Austen’s House Museum will still retain the right to show these items from this collection at the museum from time to time, so it would seem that everyone wins. Bravo to all concerned.

The BBC have now opened a webpage devoted to this programme which you can access here.

There are also three clips from the programme available to watch: the first has Earl Spencer reading( from a Folio edition of JAne Austen, if my eyes do not deceive me) an extract from Sense and Sensibility (to Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto playing in the background).

The second deals with the effect reading Jane Austen had on men in the trenches of the First World War,

and the third has a serious but affectionate view of the recent JASNA AGM in Fort Worth Texas.

 

It looks serious, affectionate, funny and very interesting. I can’t wait to see this when it airs on the 23rd December on BBC2 at 9.p.m.

This was of course the house to which Jane Austen and her parents first moved when they quitted the rectory at Steventon to move to Bath in 1801. The Austens rented the house  which was opposite the Sydney Gardens,then right at the very edge of the town.

A one bedroom  apartment in the building, on the second floor, has just come onto the rental market.

This is the view looking towards the Sydney gardens from the house. Go here to see all the details of the apartment.

I have to say that it is very tempting…and if the rental agreement found its way into my Christmas stocking..I’d be a very happy woman indeed!

Today, taking off from where we left, in our last post in this series, we now enter the church, which was very important in Jane Austen’s early life until she left Steventon for Bath in 1801. This simple church was the site of her baptism, where she and her family worshipped,and where for many years, members of her family were rectors.

This is the view from the rear of the Nave toward the Chancel and the East window. We will talk about the Nave and its contents in our next post in this series, and so today we shall concentrate on the Chancel, which you can see, below:

The East Window is decorated with some Victorian Stained glass, which was  designed by Meyer and Co of Munich and was installed in 1883.

Jane Austen would not have known this window. Nor would she have known the altar, below, which again is Victorian.

But in the Chancel are some very important Austen family memorials. The first, next to the organ on the south wall…

is dedicated to James Austen, Jane’s oldest brother . He was the Rector at Steventon from 1805 until his death in 1819, having taken over the family living on the death of his father in 1805. Please do note that you can enlarge all these photographs by clicking on them to see the details.

It is surmounted with the Austen family crest and motto, which you can see in the photograph below:

The inscription reads:

To the Memory of 

The Revd. James Austen,

who succeeded his father, the Revd George Austen

as Rector of this Parish

and died Dec  13th 1819 aged 53 years,

this monument and the Stone which covers his grave in the churchyard

were erected by his widow and children

There midst the flock his fond attention fed

Teh village pastor rests his weary head

Till called to join, from sin and suffering freed

That Heavenly flock which Christ himself shall feed:

For long and well he bore the chastening rod

Long, marked for death the vale of life he trod;

For talents honoured, though to fees displayed,

And virtues brightening through dejections shade

Simple yet wise, most free from guile or pride,

He daily lived to God and daily died.

Best earliest friend for thee whose cares are o’re

Dear as thy presence was, we grieve no more;

Well taught by thee, our heart scan heavenward rise;

We dare not sorrow where a Christian lies

Also in the Chancel is this elegant monument dedicated to James first wife, Anne Mathew, who was the granddaughter of the 2nd  Duke of Ancaster of Grimsthorpe.

The beautiful and elegant  inscription reads:

Sacred to the Memory of

Anne Austen

Wife of the Revd. James Austen Vicar of Sherbourne St John in this County

Daughter to Lt General Mathew Governor of Grenada

who exchanged this life for a far better on the 3rd May 1795

in the 37th year of her Age.

as the Innocency of her Heart,

Simplicity of her Manners

And amiable unspotted Tenour of her Life, in every Relation,

Will render her Memory ever dear to her surviving Friends;

So the humble and pious Resignation

Eminently manifested at that trying Period

When parting with what was most dear on Earth

Will always be considered by them

As an Example

of

Christian Fortitude

which, though they can scarcely hope to Equal

They will yet endeavour 

to imitate

The memorial is decorated with her coat of arms. James’ second wife, Mary, who was the sister to Jane Austen’s great friend, Martha Lloyd, also has her memorial here.

Her inscription reads:

Mary

Wife of the Revd. Jame Austen

Late Rector of this Parish

and Daughter of

The Revd . Noyes Lloyd

formerly

Rector of Enbourne near Newbury 

Died at Speen Berks

3rd August 1843

aged 73

and was buried here in the adjoining churchyard

her son and Daughter with sorrow 

inscribe this stone

To the honoured Memory of

Their Good and affectionate Mother

Whose loss they will Long lament

together with two verse from the Bible.

Also in the Chancel is the memorial to the Reverend William Knight, Edward Knight’s son who was also Rector at Steventon,

but who lived in the new Rectory now known as Steventon House, built for him by his father, and not the in one in which Jane Austen was born, which has now been demolished. There is also a very moving memorial, affixed to the wall underneath it, dedicated to his three daughters who died in June 1848 of scarlet fever, aged 3,  4 and 5 years respectively  :

And on that rather somber note, we shall leave the Chancel to look, next time, at the Nave.

I was very kindly invited to an evening at the Lyme Regis Museum recently, to celebrate a very important gift ( or, more correctly, a series of gifts) that have been made to the Museum’s collection by Diana Shervington.

©The Philpott Museum Lyme Regis

Diana, pictured at the evening, above, is, as you know, descended doubly from Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Knight,( booth her grandmothers were his grand-daughters) and she has given many a talk at the museum using Austen family relics to illustrate them.  She has now decided to donate these items to the museum permanently, and they will be on show there as part of the permanent collection.

©The Philpott Museum Lyme Regis

The items she so generously donated include those in the photograph above: spectacles and their case which both belonged to Mrs Austen, Jane Austen’s mother; a set of “spilkins” a game at which Jane Austen excelled according to The Memoir of her written by her nephew, James Edward Austen Leigh;

Jane Austen was successful in everything that she attempted with her fingers. None of us could throw spilikins in so perfect a circle, or take them off with so steady a hand.

Chapter 5

A set of bone counters inscribed with the alphabet rather like the ones mentioned in the word game section of Chapter 41 of  Emma,and some gaming fish.

She also donated some bone counters and a box for the game of “Merelles”; a kerchief with lace edging and a very lovely and fine lace cap worn by ladies indoors during Jane Austen’s era. Go here to see all the items and read about the evening which I sadly could not attend due to previous commitments.

So…this very generous donation now gives us all another excuse to visit that lovely town in Dorset, with its remarkable situation:

… the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which in the season is animated with bathing-machines and company; the Cobb itself, its old wonders and new improvements, with the very beautiful line of cliffs stretching out to the east of the town, are what the stranger’s eye will seek; and a very strange stranger it must be, who does not see charms in the immediate environs of Lyme, to make him wish to know it better. The scenes in its neighbourhood, Charmouth, with its high grounds and extensive sweeps of country, and still more its sweet, retired bay, backed by dark cliffs, where fragments of low rock among the sands make it the happiest spot for watching the flow of the tide, for sitting in unwearied contemplation; the woody varieties of the cheerful village of Up Lyme; and, above all, Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest-trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state, where a scene so wonderful and so lovely is exhibited, as may more than equal any of the resembling scenes of the far-famed Isle of Wight: these places must be visited, and visited again to make the worth of Lyme understood.

Persuasion, Chapter 11.

and it is, of course, where Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s love began to revive, and where Jane Austen herself appeared to have been so happy attending balls at the Assembly Rooms and renting Mr Pynes house.

I should like to thank the Museum for permission to use their lovely images in this post. 

On this, the last Sunday in Advent and the week before Christmas, I thought it might be appropriate to begin a small series of posts about the church which has so many associations with Jane Austen, St Nicholas’s Parish Church, Steventon.

The Rectory where Jane Austen was born in Steventon in 1775, was demolished circa 1823-4, by her brother, Edward Knight. He built a new Rectory for his son, William Knight, who was to be the new Rector, taking over from his uncle, Henry Austen. This was sited away from the  position of the old rectory, on the other side of the valley in order to avoid the frequent floods that so badly afflicted the old building. In November of this year a serious archaeological study of the remains of the old rectory took place, and there will be an exhibition of its findings next year in Basingstoke. Here is a link to a BBC report( only 3 minutes long) about the dig and what it hopes to resolve( i.e. exactly what the rectory looked like, given the differing version of the existing drawings of it- more on this later!). I will, hopefully, keep an eye on all developments on this story for you…but , of course, with the demolition of the Rectory, the parish church where her father and two brothers were rectors is now the only remaining building in the village that has very close associations with Jane Austen.

This, above,  is the view along the lane from the site of the old Rectory to the Church, which Jane Austen and her family must have traversed countless times, going to and from services. The village is still small, and was small when Jane Austen lived there, from 1775-1801. The houses and farms are all straggled along the winding lanes of this part of Hampshire. Here is a section from my copy of John Cary’s map of Hampshire, dating from 1797,   which shows the positions of the villages where George Austen held livings: Steventon, Deane and Ashe:

George Austen, Jane’s father, became rector of this church in 1761, thought he didn’t  “do the duty ”  at the church until he took up residence at Dene another of his parishes, which you can see is not far from Steventon, until 1764. He became rector of this church through the good graces of his cousin by marriage, Thomas Knight of Godmersham.

The church is dedicated to St Nicholas, from whom the Santa Clause legend has derived. St Nicolas was reputed to have been Nikolaos, Bishop of Myra , now known as Demre, which is to be found in modern-day Turkey. He was known for giving secret gifts to deserving people, and many miracles were associated with him. His relics were moved from Myra to Bari, in Italy,  in 1087. His fame spread through the Christian world when Crusaders learned of his story during their return form the First Crusade, circa 1096-99.

The church was built probably around 1200 by the Lords of the Manor of Steventon. At the time George Austen became Rector it was in a very dilapidated state, a condition it shared with the Rectory. The spire was in such a bad condition that it was blown down in a gale in 1764. George Austen didn’t replace it,  so the church that Jane Austen did not include the spire that we see today.

He did however, repair the roof and in 1765 wrote to the Bishop of Winchester to assure him that:

The church and chancel are in good repair and everything necessary for the celebrations of divine service and the administration of holy sacrament are provided.

The church is approached through a simple iron gate,

and the entrance to the church is through a door in the West wall, at the base of the tower:

Either side of the door are two medieval heads, one of a man, on the left

and a woman , on the right:

You can see some marks radiating from a central hole in the stone , just beneath the woman’s head in the picture above. This is a form of sundial known as a scratch dial or “Mass Clock”

The doorway dates from the 13th century, when the original door in the south wall of the nave of the church was blocked up. Next in this series we shall go inside the church to look at its rather simple but beautiful interior. But before we do you might like to see the church notice board:

which is adorned with this small carving of Jane Austen at her writing-table:

to alert anyone who is ignorant of the fact that this church has many, many strong associations with Jane and her family. We shall learn more of them in our next post.

On this, the  236th anniversary of Jane Austen’s birth, I really do hope ( fingers crossed!) that you will all be pleased to hear of my new venture.

I am terribly honoured to be involved with the launch of the Jane Austen’s House Museum’s new blog, which you can access here

The idea behind the blog is to share the life of the museum with everyone, wherever you are in the world.

So….We will be bringing you news of the events and  exhibitions held at the Museum, together with regular reports on the gardens, the objects in the museum’s collection and there will be also opportunities to virtually meet the staff, the volunteers and guests.

I do hope you will join us over there for all the fun, on the day when entrance to the museum is free and all visitors are offered a celebratory  cup of coffee and a mince pie. On this cold, wintry and  snowy day, reminiscent of the weather when Jane Austen was born in Steventon  in 1775, I’m sure these offerings will be very welcome! Do join us, won’t you?

You may recall that in September, I brought your attention to this fascinating necklace

which was part of the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor’s estate. Go here to read about its history.

The sale at Christie’s in New York took place on the 13th December, and  it sold for $314,500…which is really amazing when you consider the the sale estimate was for $1,500 to $2000. Go here for all the sale details.

I will console myself with reading the catalogues of the sale, which are going to be part of my Christmas presents from my family. A girl can still dream….well, she will have to, because that bauble is not going to find its way into her Christmas Stocking!

After a week where we discussed the merits of a portrait of Jane Austen, I thought it highly appropriate to review this fascinating book, which has been recently published by Yale. It would make the prefect present for anyone interested in the history of the perceptions of female beauty, that ever-changing ideal that is almost  impossible for any one woman to attain. Aileen Ribeiro, Emeritus Professor at the Courtaluld Institute,  has written a thought provoking and carefully researched book on this most elusive of subjects. Though it deals with a long time period- from 1540 to 1940-  the detailed chapter on beauty in the Enlightenment period is worth the cover price of the book alone.

Jane Austen lived though a period when ideals of beauty changed almost 180 degrees. When she was born, in 1775, powdered and pomaded hair, teased fantastically high, above a powered, rouged and patched face was the fashionable norm. The picture, above, taken from a fan made in the 1770s is a satire of a fashionable woman at her toilette.  Jane Austen would surely have seen women who aspired to this type of beauty. Indeed, a small, delicate rouge pot is kept in the collection of the Jane Austen’s House Museum which is thought to have been the property of her fascinating cousin and eventual sister-in-law, Eliza de Feuillide . You can see it below in one of my own photographs.( Note, this is not included in the book)

However, by the turn of the century , 1800, that had all changed.

The more natural elegance of Justine Recamier, above, though no less artful, was more favoured after the upheavals of the French Revioluton and the overthrow of the old order:

Compared with the Renaissance, the  eighteenth century was a period of personal comfort, of improved hygiene and of bodily intimacy, all of which turned the toilette into a high art, in which the theatre of dressing and undressing was an much an enjoyable entertainment as making up the face. The century regarded beauty as a whole, the body as well as the face…

Professor Ribeiro discusses in immense detail how (mostly) male writers sought to comment on women’s beauty and, by these means, also attempted to control their behaviour. Look at this passage about Jane Asuten’s favourite poet, William Copwer, with his somewhat familiar arguments agasint  the over use of cosmetics:

The poet William Cowper pursued the idea of deceit in make up by asking how far the eye was really deceived if the face was overly made up. In France, according to his argument, woman’s use of paint was not intended to mislead because the artifice was too obvious; Englishwomen, however, tried to mislead by more subtle make up, for they wanted “to be thought beautiful and much more beautiful than nature has made them” and so they were “guilty of a design  to deceive”

In the early 19th cnetury, neoclassicism and its emphasis on the natural look inspired by the Greek and Roman statuary , flourished, as personified by this portrait of Queen Louise of Prussia by Joseph Grassi ( 1804)

But it was a type of beauty that emphasised the young and the youthful. Professor Riberio notes that at this time:

Youthfulness was a crucial component of beauty-that is, a slim figure enhanced by light and simple dress and a youthful complexion that remained well beyond the juvenile age.

This print by Robert Deighton, Fashionable Lady in Dress and Undress dating from 1807 shows the sheer  amount of work and artifice that was necessary to present this appearance of youthful beauty as a woman aged…

As Professor Riberio wryly comments:

Even when the vogue for the  classical flourished at the  turn of the century, not every woman abandoned face paint or cosmetics; make up, like certain favoured styles of dress, is so much a part of sense of self that it is often retained beyond youth, when no longer fashionable. Many women, especially those of a certain age, must have felt more comfortable when dress assumed a natural waist level, when the arms were covered and when, by using cosmetics, they could ‘ baffle time in his invidious warfare against comeliness”

What I particularly loved was the detailed documentary on the cosmetics that women have used throughout the period covered by the book. All in the hope , sometimes a desperate and dangerous hope given the ingredients used, of appearing youthful and beautiful.

The foundation for a healthy and glowing face was unblemished skin, which was softened with a scented oil or a wax-based pomade…

The pomades which would give the appearance of a youthful skin were prepared and bought by women, rather in the way we buy age defying formulas today. Fascinating.

I can wholly  recommend this beautifully produced and sumptuously illustrated book to you. Professor Riberio has a great style which is entertaining, elegant and erudite. You will love this book, and reading  it will give you some insights into why Caroline Bingley was so dismissive of Elizabeth Bennet’s tan ,and why,  indeed, Darcy found her glowing complexion so compelling ;)

Only recently did I notice that Ivan Day of the Historic Food website has begun to write a blog. So, naturally, I simply had to share it with you….Here, below,  is one of my photographs of Ivan slicing a home cured ham taken when I attended his Georgian Food course, set in his 18th century Cumbrian kitchen:

Historic Food Jottings was launched in August, and I think it will prove to be another treasure trove for enthusiasts of the history of food. Treasures to be found so far are Ivan’s magnificently elaborate Twelfth Night cake for this year, which is to be raffled on behalf of a local Cumbrian charity:

©Ivan Day

You will recall I had a magical time making one of these fabulous creations on Ivan’s A Taste of Christmas Past course.

Another post gives the story of  how Ivan recreated Elizabeth Raffald’s second course as illustrated in her book, The English Housekeeper  for the Rienzi House Museum at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston:

©Ivan Day

Here is a fascinating but  short video where Ivan describes the food used in the recreation:

You can learn how to make a Solomon’s Temple in Flummery , below, which is one of Mrs Raffald’s dishes,  and which features in the display above.

©IvanDay

Ivan has very forthright views on the accuracy of reports on historical food, and his remarks on  The Great British Bake Off and Sophie Dahl’s Mrs Beeton programme are very entertaining and pull no punches. So, if you are looking not only for a good read on fascinating historical items  but also for some trenchant comments, then this is the blog for you!

Paula Byrne has just revealed that the church tower shown in the “new” portrait is not Westminster Abbey, as previously speculated, but is that of St Margaret’s Church, Westminster.

St Margaret’s was built as a church where the ordinarily people who lived near to Westminster Abbey could worship. The present building was begun in 1245 during the reign of Henry III but was rebuilt between 1486 and 1523. Since 1614 it has been the parish church of the Palace of Westminster, which is of course where the House of Commons and the House of Lords are situated.It is famous, among other things, for its grand society weddings.

This picture, above, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, shows the tower very clearly. It was  rebuilt by  the Hampshire born architect, John James, who was an assistant of Sir Christopher Wren, between the years 17343 to 1738. His most famous commission was St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, in smart, rich and elegant Mayfair, shown below. This image is from my collection of prints from the early nineteenth century part work, The Beauties of England and Wales:

This was, of course, where poor Mary Crawford dreamt of marrying Edmund Bertram in Chapter 43 of Mansfield Park.

Back to St Margaret’s, and I think this, visually, makes more sense. The two towers look very similar. What do you think?

The excellent Alison Flood of the Guardian wrote this very good summation of the situation in The Guardian online yesterday. She has some additional informative quotes from Paula Byrne and I thought you might like to read some of them:

“When my husband bought it he thought it was a reasonable portrait of a nice lady writer, but I instantly had a visceral reaction to it. I thought it looks like her family. I recognised the Austen nose, to be honest, I thought it was so striking, so familiar,” Byrne told the Guardian. “The idea that it was an imaginary portrait – that seemed to me to be a crazy theory. That genre doesn’t exist, and this looks too specific, too like the rest of her family, to have been drawn from imagination.”

Here are some of the silhouettes and portraits of Jane Austen’s family for you to compare the “Austen nose

George Austen, Jane’s father, above, and below, and this is him in silhouette:

Jane’s mother, Cassandra Austen nee Leigh, in silhouette:

And now her siblings: first James Austen, Jane’s eldest brother:

Edward Knight:

Henry Austen:

Frank Austen:

Charles Austen:

and a silhouette of Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister:

And here is a silhouette thought to be of Jane Austen- L’aimiable Jane”– found in a second edition of  Mansfield Park

Paula Byrne is also quoted regarding her forthcoming documentary about the portrait:

She approached the BBC, and together they put together a documentary on the portrait, working with various experts including art historians, fashion experts and forensic analysts on the picture’s background. “We approached it with an open mind,” said Byrne. “We tried to cover all leads, and in the end we put our findings to three top Jane Austen scholars, and two out of three thought it was her.”

The Jane Austen experts were Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University, Professor Claudia Johnson of Princeton and Deirdre Le Faye. Kathryn Sutherland and Claudia Johnson both agreed the picture was of Jane Austen. As we suspected, Deirdre Le Faye thought otherwise. As Paula Byrne comments:

“She thinks it is an imaginary portrait. I did try so hard to find one single example of an imaginary portrait, but nobody could find one – they just don’t exist,” said Byrne. “But it’s great to have the debate – it opens up a very interesting question about who Jane Austen was and who we want her to be.”

Hmm. I’m not quite sure that is correct, and while no imaginary portrait might be extant from the period, we read yesterday that such things were being created by enthusiastic fans. Go here to see Deirdre Le Faye’s comments .

Paula Byrne also thinks the the portrait shows Jane Austen to be in London:

“This new picture first roots her in a London setting – by Westminster Abbey. And second, it presents her as a professional woman writer; there are pens on the table, a sheaf of paper. She seems to be a woman very confident in her own skin, very happy to be presented as a professional woman writer and a novelist, which does fly in the face of the cutesy, heritage spinster view.

This  is how Westminster Abbey appeared in the 1780s, depicted by Paul Sandby. You can enlarge these pictures for a closer look by clicking on them, remember.

The towers of the Abbey, below,  have similarities…

I think you will agree, to the tower depicted in the portrait.

Here’s a photograph I took last year for you to compare:

But why would Jane Austen be shown in London? Could one of Henry Austen’s circle of friends have drawn her? If so, why include an image of Westminster Abbey?  I think we have to await the broadcast of the documentary to discover exactly what the evidence is, aside from the presence of what would appear to be  the Austen nose  ;)

Personally, I’d like to see a report on the dating evidence for the vellum and the ink used to  inscribe the reverse of the portrait ( with an interesting misspelling of Jane Austen’s surname: “Miss Jane Austin”.) Other questions I’d like answered include why that name was misspelt? Why is she depicted as a writer, when no one in her immediate family ever depicted her so and she clearly did not want to be known in the wider world as a woman who earned money as a professional writer? Who could have created a portrait? If it was taken from life it must surely have been made by someone intimate with her and her family? In that case when was the misspelt inscription put on it, and why was it misspelt if it was drawn by an intimate? Why has it not come to light before  the 1980s and what research has been made into its life before that date? Too many questions to list here to be frank.

And another thought: if this is of Jane Austen does it really affect the way you think of her?How you perceive her and her genius? I have to say that , personally, it doesn’t affect my opinion of her at all. Her works- the juvenilia, the novels (completed and unfinished) and her letters-  are more important to me in informing how I think about her than any of these images. I really don’t need another sadly amateur portrait to influence this.  If a fashionable less frumpy image is required of her, and I may quickly insert that for me it is not, let us not forget that there may be one in existence already- but it’s attribution is hotly contested by the National Portrait Gallery and other experts. This is James Stanier Clarke’s little water colour of a fashionably dressed woman and it is thought by some to be Jane Austen visiting him at Carlton House, the Prince of Wales’ London residence:

Stanier Clarke was, of course, the Prince of Wales’ librarian who so infuriated Jane Austen with his hints to her as to how a novel should be written.

However, I will own that I do wish a great professional artist could have depicted her in adult hood. Someone like Zoffany, Hoppner or even Thomas Lawrence, whom we know to have been an admirer of her talent. Now, that really would be something to shout about. For these artists would have given us not only a good representation of her features, but would also have captured, surely, something of her vivacity, her intelligence, which sadly to my eye, these amateur portraits do not. That really  would be a fantastic discovery don’t you think?

In the 2007 Report of the Jane Austen Society, Deirdre Le Faye wrote an article entitled Imaginary portraits of Jane Austen. In it she commented on portraits of Jane Austen which were not taken from life, and she included in this category this image, below, which is  now owned by Paula Byrne and the subject of so much interest today.

She writes:

This might well be the creation of the Reverend William Jones (1777-1821) curate and vicar of Broxbourne and Hoddesdon- or if not him someone with very similar interests. On 17th April 1818 Mr Jones confided to his diary:

Whenever I am very much “taken with” an author,I generally draw his or her likeness in my own fancy: but I am a flattering painter. I had done this of Laetitia-Matilda Hawkins; but Mrs Davis has told me that somebody has told her(  I don’t know how many somebodies deep) that L.M.H. is “very plain”. I still long to see her and to become acquainted with her”.

Le Faye remarks that the artist-whom so ever that may be!- seems to have read Henry Austen’s Biographical Notice of Jane Austen, published with the first editions of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey in 1817,  and imagined this vision of her as a result. She also notes that elements of the portrait are symbolic: the cat asleep on the table  to the right of the portrait indicates spinsterhood.The church tower she thinks is reminiscent of Canterbury Cathedral and is a nod to Jane Austen being, in Henry Austen’s word,  “throughly religious and devout”.

The plot thickens….

The British media is agog this morning with the possibility of there being a  newly, previously unknown, recently  discovered portrait of Jane Austen for us all to deliberate upon. Dr Paula Byrne whom you may know from of the book, Jane Austen and the Theatre fame, is currently writing a new biography of Jane Austen, The Real Jane Austen. This is destined to be published in 2013 to coincide with the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice. Dr Byrne claimes that this portrait, below, is of our favourite author. Do click on it to enlarge it to see the details

The portrait was brought to her attention by her husband Jonathan Bate, the renowned Shakespearian scholar. He saw it was going to be sold at auction and thought the resemblance to Jane Austen was strong.  The pencil drawing on vellum was bought by Paula Byrne who discovered that “Miss Jane Austen” was inscribed on the reverse. Dr Byrne  is today quoted in the press with her arguments supporting her contention that the portrait is of Jane.They are as follows:

The ‘memoir portrait'(below-jfw) has always rather annoyed me. It makes her look pretty and dim. It feeds this whole notion of ‘Aunt Jane’, the demure spinster who was very good at spillikins and enjoyed scribbling on the side, but was content with her life in the shadows.

Scholars know there was so much more to her. And for me this new picture encapsulates – almost too perfectly – that other side. She’s a professional woman presenting herself to the world with the tools of her trade. It’s the image of Jane Austen so many of us have been waiting for.

Paula Byrne was interviewed on the BBC Today Programme this morning, and cross-examined quite closely by Will Gompertz, and you might like to hear their exchange. Go here to  listen to it. In the interview, Dr Byrne claims that 2 out of the 3 most important Jane Austen experts agree with her that the portrait is indeed of Jane.

I think we discerning readers have been well aware for some times  that  there is so much  more to Jane Austen than being a genteel, domestically minded spinster sitting at the fireside, as portrayed in the original Memoir by her nephew. For example, through my readings of her novels, I have discovered that she appears to have been very political indeed and espoused some of the most famous political causes of the day ;) But its good to note that the new biography of her might take this idea and run with it because the sweet spinster interpretation of Jane Austen that still persists irritates me beyond measure.  No one who reads her letters could ever, surely, come away with this twee  view of her, and yet some readers still cling to the “Dear Aunt Jane ” interpretation of her life and works.

As to the portrait, Dr Byrne is certain it has the Austen nose and was convinced on first seeing it that it was Jane Austen. Dr Byrne will be presenting all her arguments in support of her theory  to us in a BBC2 documentary to be broadcast on Boxing Day ( 26th December) entitled , Jane Austen : The Unseen Portrait. I am intrigued  to see it.

She will have to do more than convince us and Austen scholars however, as to the authenticity of the portrait.  The National Portrait Gallery in London holds the only authenticated full-face image of Jane, as painted by her sister, Cassandra. Go here to see it, but I’m sure you are all familiar with this tiny watercolour. It was from this sketch, which was not thought to be very like Jane by her contemporaries, that the engraving included in James Austen Leigh’s memoir was “adapted”. Recently the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen has been the subject of some controversy about its disputed authenticity, a controversy which still continues. Go here to read about the portrait, and its rather sad history

The newly discovered picture will no doubt be subject to the same doubts and deliberations. It will be very interesting to see the documentary and hear the arguments for and against. In the meantime, do you think this could possibly be a new portrait of Jane? When do you think the portrait  was taken? And where? And by whom? Is it too accomplished to be Cassandra’s work? What church or cathedral tower does it show? Does it have the “Austen Nose” ? Many, many questions to be answered…. for the moment, I leave it to yourselves to determine.

is now scheduled to be broadcast on the 23rd December from 9 p.m.- 10 p.m. on BBC2

The Press Release for the programme gives us some hints of its content:

To mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, Professor Amanda Vickery, one of the leading chroniclers of Georgian England, explores the ebb and flow of Austen’s popularity and the hold her fiction has on us now.

In this 60-minute programme, Vickery considers what it is about her plots and characters that continue to delight, amuse, console and provoke. Her fans insist her current popularity is due to the timelessness of the fictional world Austen created, but for Vickery the question is: Why have her novels gone in, and out, of fashion?

What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well as about Austen.

As you are aware,  Amanda has spent much of the summer filming for this project all over the world, including at the Jane Austen House Museum,  filming the sale of The Watsons manuscript at Sotheby’s, visiting JASNA’s AGM at Fort Worth in Dallas. She has also recorded her impressions of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath and has interviewed many experts, literary and non-literary,  including Jocasta Millar, the Bronte scholar and author of one of my favourite books, The Bronte Myth. 

I’m looking forward to it very much, and hope to be able to share my impressions of it with you, Christmas Preparations permitting!

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