Each Portrait is a Kind of Truth: Picturing Jane Austen

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Jane Austen, by Cassandra Austen, circa 1810 © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sep 16, 2021 at 7:00 pm8:00 pmFree

‘I hear such different accounts of you as puzzle me exceedingly’.  Elizabeth Bennet’s words to Mr Darcy could apply equally to accounts of Jane Austen herself.

What did Jane Austen look like?  The best-authenticated portrait (currently on display as a rare loan at the Holburne) is the sketch by her sister Cassandra, but many people have found it unsatisfactory.  Why is that?  Is it because it seems unfinished? amateurish? scowling?  Or is it because it does not conform to our view of how we think she should have looked?  There are other contenders as portraits and other descriptions from those who knew her.  Are all of them like her in some way?

Professor Kathryn Sutherland is Senior Research Fellow, St Anne’s College, Oxford. Her books include Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood (2005) and Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts (2018).

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