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.
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….