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Archive for January, 2019

I’m sure most of Jane Austen’s fans have already heard of a remarkable purchase from eBay – a treasure trove of photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces and nephews. The album was assembled by Lord George Augusta Hill who “married two of Austen’s nieces, both daughters of her older brother Edward.” – The Telegraph.

I have previously viewed photographs of Austen’s brothers and her friend, Martha Lloyd in their advanced age and often wondered what Jane Austen truly looked like. She died a decade before the first photograph was ever taken.

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen at the National Portrait Gallery

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen, National Portrait Gallery

The reason for my curiosity is that only one authenticated watercolor portrait of her (painted from life by her sister Cassandra) exists. There are other portraits purported to be of Jane, but their provenance is not 100% certain. Even Austen’s famous silhouette, used on many websites and in publications, might or might not be of her. The original was tucked in the back of an 1814 edition of Mansfield Park, Volume 2, and inscribed with “L’aimable Jane.”

“As her biographer, R.W. Chapman, said ‘Who would insert, in a copy of Mansfield Park, a portrait of any other Jane than its author?’” – National Portrait Gallery

At best, this statement and the placement of the silhouette is circumstantial proof of the image’s authenticity.

Sadly, modern readers can never view a photographic image of Jane Austen, but we can, due to this photographic find, see one of her favorite niece. Fanny Austen Knight. Fanny was born in 1793, when Jane was 17. Cassandra Austen painted a watercolor of a lovely Fanny when she must have been in her teens.

 

 

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The photo is of a mature Fanny, now Lady Knatchbull, wearing stodgy Victorian garb. Fanny lived a long and privileged life, having married a wealthy baronet. She bore him nine children and lived until the age of 88.

Jane was, by all accounts, a pretty and vivacious girl when she was on the “marriage mart.” We think of her as a country spinster wearing a variety of hand-sewn caps, but her lively intelligence shone through her sparking eyes and bright complexion.

For years I’ve been struck by how closely many people resemble their ancestors, even generations down the line. Anna Chancellor, who played Caroline Bingley in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice, is an Austen descendant who can trace her lineage maternally to Edward Austen Knight of Chawton, the very same Edward who offered Chawton Cottage rent free to his mother and two sisters. Jane is Anna’s eight-times great aunt.

Francis "Frank" Austen, brother

Francis Austen,  brother

Jane Austen portrait by Cassandra Austen at the National Portrait Gallery

Jane Austen

Anna Chancellor as Caroline Bingley, 1995

Anna Chancellor, descendant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These images of Jane, Francis, and Anna show a marked familial similarity in dark, piercing eyes, set of mouth and jaw, and hair color. I often look at Anna’s photos and imagine how Jane would have aged. (Nicely.)

I can’t wait until this album is examined by experts and curated for a future exhibition. Let’s hope this will be sooner rather than later.

Sources:

Lost photographs of Jane Austen’s nieces discovered on eBay reveal how author foretold their lives in plots of her novels, Helena Horton, 11 January 2019 News, The Telegraph. Click on this link.

Possibly Jane Austen, Overview Extended Catalogue Entry, National Portrait Gallery. Click on this link.

In Jane Austen’s Own Words: Advice to Fanny Knight About Love, Jane Austen’s World, March 27, 2009. Click on this link.

Jane Austen: A Family Photo Album, Tony Grant, London Calling. Click on this link to read more about the photographs, view another photo of Fanny Knatchbull and read excerpts from Jane’s letters.

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Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season was as fabulous and unforgettable as mine. One of my favorite holiday gifts was a gift certificate from Barnes & Noble, which helped me to complete all six annotations by Harvard University Press of Jane Austen’s best known novels. I quickly purchased Northanger Abbey, which I’ve been perusing since receiving it a few days ago.

Image of the covers of Northanger Abbey (front) and Emma (back) by Jane Austen and published by Harvard University Press.
Susan J. Wolfson, professor in the Department of English at Princeton University, edited this edition, which has an extensive 60-page introduction. The book’s format follows the five other annotations – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion – with Jane Austen’s text in the center and the annotated commentary placed on the far right on uneven pages or far left on even pages.  Descriptive images of Bath, a poste chaise, or fashions of the day provide a visual punch to this annotation, as do the well-chosen images in the other books.

Image of Pages 112 and 113 with Jane Austen's text, annotations, and an image of Bath from a private road leading to Prior Park.

Two-page spread of pages 112 & 113 of Northanger Abbey, annotated edition.

For readers who were lucky enough to receive gift cards for books, I cannot recommend these gorgeous hard-cover books enough.

Image of a stack of Jane Austen's six novels, annotated editions by Harvard University Press.

More on the topic:

  • The Jane Austen Annotated Editions: Harvard University Press (includes information about all six editions)
  • This blog’s reviews of the Harvard University Press’s annotated editions of Jane Austen’s Novels: Click here

 

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