Welcome to Romance Reviews Today's first guest blogger...Lucinda Betts!
Her latest book from Kensington Aphrodisia THE SUPPLICANT is just hitting bookshelves. Be sure to check it out!
Last April, a mysterious portrait of Jane Austen went up for sale at Christie's Auction House. What is the mystery, you ask. The artist isn't in question. British painter Ozias Humphry created the oil painting. The owner isn't in question. One of Jane's descendants, Henry Rice, is selling it. The mystery surrounding this portrait involves the subject. Is this a painting of Jane Austen or not?
Art historians question the hairstyle and the fashion of the dress worn in the portrait. Were those common when Jane Austen herself was a teenager? Those seem like reasonable questions to me, good reasons to ask whether the painting portrays our beloved mother of romantic comedy.
On the day of the (unsuccessful) auction, NPR's Reneee Montagne interviewed Clive James, author, poet and critic. He offered a strange reason to ask whether the painting depicted Jane. He said the teenager was too beautiful to be her.
"The author of Jane Austen's novels couldn't possibly look like this, or they would very different novels," James said. "Jane Austen was not outstandingly beautiful or she'd be remembered as that," James said. "It's definitely not in the character of the books to be about a beautiful woman. They are about a woman who is not beautiful yet who has other virtues," James said.
I see several problems with this argument. First, although the teenager is the portrait is pretty, she doesn't seem "outstandingly beautiful" to me. For "outstandingly beautiful" I suggest you admire "The Duchesse de Polignac Wearing a Straw Hat," which was painted by Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun in 1782. (Jane Austen was born in 1775.)
If Jane were pretty as a teenager and faded to normality as an adult, would she still be remembered for that fleeting teenaged prettiness? Hard to say.
According to Wikipedia, Jane died of Addison's disease at the age of 41. Addison's disease affects the adrenal gland, usually as a result of tuberculosis. The physical symptoms of Addison's disease include: muscle weakness, weight loss, nausea, irritability, depression, and areas of darkened skin. If Jessica Simpson (who might be considered more beautiful than the teenaged girl in the Humphry painting) died of Addison's disease, would we remember her beauty as an important part of her life? Hard to say. We'd probably remember her pop songs and her acting (which may or may not pan out). If Jessica Simpson creates something as great as "Pride and Prejudice," I suspect her youthful beauty will become even less important in the annals of history.
But here's the part that gets me about Clive Jame's critique. Can't a beautiful woman imagine what it's like to be plain and write about it in a meaningful way? Can't an impoverished person imagine what it's like to be rich and portray that well?
While it's true that Charles Dickens actually worked in a sweatshop for a short period, and F. Scott Fitzgerald flirted along the edges of high-society, Anna Sewell was not a horse and Harriet Beecher Stowe wasn't a black male slave, and H.G. Wells was never invisible.
Novelists imagine themselves all the time in situations in which they've never found themselves--thankfully. Romance is filled with cowboys and millionaires and secret babies, and I would guess that those are rare in real life. Romance is filled with time travel and spaceships and mythological creatures, also rare in real life. Without ever having met a dragon or cast a spell, I myself have written about those experiences. Certainly Jane Austen was capable of the same.
And all the hoopla aside, I personally think the oil painting by Humphry looks a whole lot like the sketch of Jane by her sister Cassandra.
Check out Lucinda's website at: http://www.lucindabetts.com/
PS...if you're interested in appearing as a guest blogger, email Patti at email@example.com
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