Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

As all good Janeites know and are celebrating today, JA was born on December 16, 1775. At age 236, she's going stronger than ever!

There has been considerable brouhaha in the British press lately about yet another recently discovered "lost portrait" of JA. (This article in The Guardian is representative.) Your Regional Coordinators, however, remain unconvinced that Dr. Paula Byrne's merely dating a portrait to 1815 and finding "Miss Jane Austin" written on the back of it constitute proof of its authenticity. They also wonder what St. Margaret's, Westminster, is doing in the background; why the lady in the portrait is wearing more jewelry than JA probably owned altogether; and so forth. Answers may or may not be forthcoming on Dr. Byrne's upcoming BBC2 special about the portrait--if we ever get to see it at all on this side of the pond, of course.

Your RCs would also agree with the sentiment several other Austen bloggers have expressed on this auspicious day--namely, that what JA looked like is a lot less important than what she wrote. Nevertheless, in casting about for an illustration for this post, we came across a very helpful collection of images on the Jane Austen Society of Australia website ( These include Cassandra Austen's two portraits (the unfinished sketch of JA's face, and the portrait of JA seated with her back to the viewer) and almost all other images except for Dr. Byrne's recent discovery. Of these, the 2002 painting by Tom Clifford is actually quite pleasing and deserves to be better known, we think. It shows JA reading in the garden at her beloved Chawton home. Here it is:

And we leave you with the epigraph from Rudyard Kipling's story "The Janeites," which has become the traditional JA birthday toast in many JASNA regions:

Jane lies in Winchester--blessed be her shade!
Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made!
And while the stones of Winchester, or Milsom Street, remain,
Glory, love, and honour unto England's Jane!

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