A little birdie told me

September 12, 2009 at 12:18 am (books) (, , , , , )


After a bit of a search, a dear friend in Britain has come across one of the British Library’s Austen items — the Jane Austen Desk Diary — and our two figures have been identified!

austen-desk-diary1

The disappointing part is that, while profusely illustrated (with silhouettes by JEAL [James Edward Austen Leigh] as well as BL illustrations), there are no other people-silhouettes in the book [mentally insert a sad face here…].  See my previous post for some theories and hypotheses.

So who, according to my dickie bird, are these people?? The man – who I thought just might be Edward Austen Knight (Jane’s brother who was ‘adopted’ when a youth) – turns out to be James Edward Austen-Leigh! From the pictures I have of him – a couple paintings and one photograph taken in old age, I simply would not have guessed it was him.

And the girl I had so hoped was Emma’s sister Fanny?? Seems this is a silhouette of Caroline Wiggett, the adopted daughter of the Chutes of The Vyne! I kept thinking ‘no way!’ all day – but looking at my cache of pics just now I see that the silhouette I recalled in my mind’s eye and thought was a young Caroline Wiggett is actually of Caroline Austen (JEAL’s sister). No wonder they look nothing alike!

So mystery solved, as far as published pictures of the family goes. What the Austen-Leighs of today may have in their possession (and which may have been thought not as interesting as the silhouettes Edward cut for his children) remains to be seen (literally and figuratively). Evidently the British Library did not try to attribute the silhouettes to anyone. Could they possibly be the work of Emma’s eldest sister, Augusta?? I would LOVE to think that!

In Emma’s diaries there are MANY mentions of Augusta’s ‘shades’; she evidently was quite the adept at producing good likenesses. From Caroline’s “Reminiscences” (not published, but available in manuscript copy at the Hampshire Record Office), Augusta and Caroline were fast friends. Nice to believe, therefore, that the threesome were occupied one quiet evening, perhaps while everyone visited The Vyne, in creating what has come down to us via this lovely cover art.

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