Saturday, 20 March 2010

Jane's Fame (2)

Last year I visited the National Portrait Gallery to see Cassandra Austen's drawing of her sister. When I finally located the miniature I was struck by the defensive arms across the chest attitude of the sitter who appeared reluctant to be drawn. Claire Harman gives a fascinating account of the history of this drawing in Jane's Fame.

The original was deemed 'too unattractive' to appear in a family memoir so a professional artist touched up the photo, enlarging the eyes, softening the face and adding a few frills. This wholly unrepresentative image has become 'beloved Jane' of the Austen industry. I must admit to a certain unease about the whole 'tote bags and T-shirts' thing yet I drink my tea from an Austen mug.

Harman is particularly good on cliched Austen film and TV adaptions and provides a wickedly amusing aside, worthy of Jane herself, on an American TV reality show based on Pride and Prejudice where young women compete to marry a wealthy bachelor. It later emerged that the wealthy bachelor was a dodgy penniless fraud.

It makes one wonder which part of Pride and Prejudice the producers had been thinking of - the Darcy-Elizabeth plot or Wickham and Lydia's.
As always, books about Austen make me want to return to the texts themselves. I'm supposed to be reading Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire for book group but I'm going to squeeze in a re-read of Mansfield Park first.


mary said...

I'd never noticed the folded arms before, but you're so right - she's only going along with it because it 's Cassandra!

Eileen said...

I've tried but could never get into Jane Austen. The whole industry surrounding her makes me a bit uncomfortable. From what I've heard, her books are psychologically complex and very satirical but it seems like people have just turned her into 19th-century "chick lit." Which bugs me, because I feel like it diminishes this great female writer.

Anonymous said...

I've never thought that about the fact that her arms are drawn up - that's interesting.

I also cannot read about Jane Austen or see an adaptation without returning to her books. I need to bully my library into ordering a copy of that book.

LizF said...

Although I do love Jane Austen, Mansfield Park is the one book of her's that I have not re read. Probably because I studied it for A-Level and the teacher had a regrettable penchant for dissecting virtually every line minutely on the first read. To say that it put me off is putting it mildly!
I suppose that I really should give it another go as hopefully the thirty-odd year gap should allow me to read it without being straight back in the classroom trying desperately to stay awake.

Diane said...

Hi, I just read your comments on Jane Brockets blog - you don't look hard enough!! I found these and some of the later ones have Up to date Kate in!!!

I used to wear my hair exactly the same way as Up to date Kate!!

Vintage Reading said...

Mary, I'd love to know more about Cassandra, I think she gets unfairly criticised for destroying a lot of her sister's correspondence.

EL Fay, I agree, her books are far more complex that chick lit but hugely enjoyable, too.

makedoandread, it only struck me when I saw the picture that she looks defensive but in a good-humoured way! Yes, nothing compares to reading the novels.

LizF, I didn't appreciate the full magnificence of MP until I reached my late thirties. There's nothing like academia for putting you off a book entirely! If you do re-read please let me know what you think.

Diane, thank you! Good to 'meet' another up-to-date-Kate fan!