A newly unearthed (potential) portrait of famed nineteenth century novelist Jane Austen shows her looking quite different from the grouchy old spinster of popular imagination. The portrait above was first discovered by Austen scholar Dr. Paula Byrne when her husband bought her an “imaginary portrait” of a female writer named “Jane Austin” at auction. Being deeply in tune with Jane Austen’s very essence, Byrne caught some intense Austen vibes off it immediately.
“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,” she told The Guardian. “I thought it looks like her family. I recognised the Austen nose, to be honest, I thought it was so striking, so familiar. 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.”
After bringing it to several other Austen scholars, Byrne still isn’t 100% sure if the portrait was drawn of Austen, but the majority of them think it was. If it is, it certainly goes against the image set forth by the only other known portrait of Austen, drawn by her sister Cassandra, in which she looks somewhat frumpy and annoyed:
The newer portrait shows Austen looking calm and confident in her role as a lady-writer, and furthermore, wearing an outfit that showcases her beauty and femininity. Or, as Byrne put it:
The previous portrait is a very sentimentalised Victorian view of ‘Aunt Jane’, someone who played spillikins, who just lurked in the shadows with her scribbling. But it seems to me that it’s very clear from her letters that Jane Austen took great pride in her writing, that she was desperate to be taken seriously 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.
You go, girl.