Jane Austen’s (family) Portraits

December 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm (books, jane austen, portraits and paintings) (, , , , , )

In a follow-up to the news of the Sotheby’s sale, I’ve pulled out the one source I have that discusses this very portrait’s “reason for being”: Deirdre Le Faye’s (2nd ed.) Jane Austen: A Family Record.

Near the end of the book, the genesis of James Edward Austen Leigh’s biography, A Memoir of Jane Austen, is treated. It is a rather disappointing story, from the view of the Memoir‘s author: his two sisters were most giving and generous. However, his eldest sister, the former Anna Austen [born 1793] now long the widowed Mrs Lefroy, declared how little she remembered! But then, after sitting down with her pen and paper and exercising her recollections, she did come up with a highly entertaining narrative. Hard to be harsh with Anna: how many of us will recall people from our past, sixty years later?

Edward’s younger sister Caroline Mary Craven Austen [born 1805] also supplied her memories for her brother to incorporate as he wished. Her piece was later published as My Aunt Jane Austen.

Other sources were, of course, attempted. According to Le Faye, “Rather surprisingly, it seems that even at this late date Anna [Lefroy] still did not know that Cassandra had kept Jane’s letters and distributed some of them to the younger nieces, for she wrote to her brother [James Edward Austen Leigh, born 1798]: ‘The occasional correspondence between the Sisters when apart from each other would as a matter of course be destroyed by the Survivor — I can fancy what the indignation of Aunt Cassa. would have been at the mere idea of its being read and commented upon by any of us….'”

Anna also wrote to her brother, “‘You must have it in your own power to write something; & Caroline, though her recollections cannot go as far back even as your’s, is, I know acquainted with some particulars… [they] were communicated to her by the best of then living Authorities, Aunt Cassandra — There may be other sources of information, if we could get at them — Letters may have been preserved’.”

“As far as letters held by other branches of the family were concerned James Edward’s approaches met with only limited success.” Le Faye then details that one of Frank Austen’s son’s “knew that no letter to Henry had been kept”, and that Frank’s daughter Fanny Sophia “had destroyed [Jane’s letters to Frank], following his death in 1865, without consulting anyone else beforehand.” Martha Lloyd Austen’s (Lady Austen) letters had come into Frank’s hands, and “it was one of these that he sent to the Quincy family in 1852 — but how many more of them may have been in his possession at that date is unknown.”

Fanny Sophia was willing to let Edward look at the few letters she had retained, “but only on the condition that he did not publish any”. He evidently did not, therefore, take her up on the offer.

Then there comes the tale of Lady Knatchbull, the former Fanny Knight. “She was now drifting into querulous senility and could not — perhaps would not — remember where she had put her letters from Jane.” These, which Edward did not live to see published, came out in 1884 in the so-called Brabourne edition (vol. 1) [other works by Brabourne, including vol. 2 of Jane Austen’s letters, at Internet Archive].

Certainly, Edward Austen had done the best any biographer can try to do, in amassing all the known “primary materials”.

So what of the portraits?!?

“After these disappointments, the help which James Edward received from Cassy Esten, Charles’s eldest daughter, must have been particularly welcome. She allowed him to use those of Jane’s letters which she had inherited in 1845, and it was she who proffered the two simple watercolour sketches by Cassandra…” These two being the “Sketch” (now at the National Portrait Gallery” and the “Bonnet Portrait”, the view of Austen, sitting out-of-doors, where her face is obscured by her bonnet. “Anna thought there was ‘a good deal of resemblance’ in the figure of the latter, but that the former was ‘so hideously unlike’.”

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

Henry had admitted “in 1832 when Bentley wanted a likeness [of Jane Austen] for his new edition of the novels” that “no professional artist has ever painted Jane’s portrait at any time in her life”. {But did Henry know “all” about his sister?}

“James Edward commissioned a local artist, James Andrews of Maidenhead, to redraw the Cassandra-portrait, working under the superintendence of himself and his sisters. They considered his version good enough to appear in the Memoir, and a stipple vignette was steel-engraved from this watercolour to use as the frontispiece.”

austen-watercolor

“Those members of the family who had known Jane best were on the whole rather disappointed by the frontispiece. Casey Esten [born in 1808] wrote ‘I think the portrait is very much superior to any thing that could have been expected from the sketch it was taken from. — It is a very pleasing, sweet face, — tho’, I confess, to not thinking it much like the original; – but that the public will not be able to detect…’  Caroline was equally lukewarm: ‘The portrait is better than I expected — as considering its early date, and that it has lately passed through the hands of painter and engraver – I did not reckon upon finding any likeness — but there is a look which I recognise as hers — and though the general resemblance is not strong, yet as it represents a pleasant countenance it is so far a truth – & I am not dissatisfied with it.’

NPG D1007; Jane Austen after Cassandra Austen

Lizzy Rice [born 1800], now a stately matriarch, wrote from Kent to James Edward: ‘I remember her so well & loved her so much & her books always were and always will be my delight … how well the portrait has been lithographed I think it very like only the eyes are too large, not for beauty but for likeness, I suppose making them so was Aunt Cassandra’s tribute of affection…’.”

Caroline agreed with the comment about the portrait’s eyes: “‘they are larger than the truth: that is, rounder, & more open – I am very glad she sees a general likeness tho’—‘.”

Mrs Beckford, the former Charlotte Maria Middleton, a Chawton neighbor, “considered that: ‘Jane’s likeness is hardly what I remember  there is a look, & that is all…’.” Le Faye records no comments – and perhaps none exist, from Emma or Edward Austen Leigh, regarding the portraits.

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Jane Austen Auction

October 30, 2013 at 7:34 pm (jane austen) (, , , , , )

An update on the James Edward Austen Leigh copy of Memoirs of Jane Austen claims CHAWTON’s JANE AUSTEN’S HOUSE MUSEUM has purchased the book:

edward austen and jane autographs

Their own website, of course, is currently giving “thanks” for donations which helped purchase from singer Kelly Clarkson the Austen Turquoise Ring:

jane austen ring

This item, too, has a family of the Rev. James Austen connection: it once belonged to Edward’s sister (i.e., my Emma’s sister-in-law), Caroline Mary Craven Austen!

Inaugural Swearing In

Former owner of Jane Austen’s Ring, Kelly Clarkson was not allowed to export the ring from the UK.

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11,000 Pounds Buys Jane Austen Collectable

October 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm (jane austen, people) (, , , )

edward austen and jane autographs

Of special concern for Two Teens in the Time of Austen: a book that went up for auction at Gorringes today:

Jane Austen, “An autograph manuscript fragment, comprising four lines, attached to another leaf bearing authentication, in turn attached to a letter from her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, written on paper bearing watermark date 1868, at Bray Vicarage, February 7, 1870, presenting the fragment to Rev. G. C. Berkeley”.

Estimate before the sale: £2,000-3,000. As the hammer dropped, the cost closed at £11,000!!

Click on the photo for full auction details and more photos.

The note, letter, and authentication are attached to a copy of Edward’s book, A Memoir of Jane Austen.

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Recent writings…

June 7, 2008 at 11:21 am (introduction) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This week I have been immersed, not in the Regency period of Emma and Mary’s girlhood years, but in the 1830s.

June has turned into a ‘big’ month for me: the publication (finally!) of Persuasions, the Journal of the Jane Austen Society of North America, which contains my article on Emma Austen; and the release (June 12th), in England, of Local Past, the Journal of the Alcester and District (Warwickshire) Historical Society. This contains my article on Emma’s sister Fanny, who married the Rev. Richard Seymour and settled in Kinwarton (about ten miles from Stratford on Avon) for the rest of her long life. This last has spurred me on to finish an article I hope the editor will accept for the December issue, which continues Fanny’s story with the birth of her first son in October 1835.

Unfortunate for Fanny, the child – which was described by Emma as ‘very fine’, died after little more than a day.

What affected me most was reading months earlier a later letter, written by Fanny in 1837. In this letter she relates a little story that shows just how much Richard enjoyed his baby daughter’s company, enjoyed making her laugh, enjoyed puzzling out whom she looked like. Oh, he sounded such a wonderful father! Only upon further investigation into their lives, did I realize that this little girl was not their first child, but their second. How heart-breaking to have gone through pregnancy and birth only to see your child begin strong and then die!

The time-period is one of the interesting parts of this research. Taken together, the lives of these people span the early years of the nineteenth-century (of this generation, Edward Austen, born in 1798, is one of the elder members), and, for the longer-lived, extend into the middle and later years of Victoria’s reign. From George III to Victoria; from horse to the ‘iron horse’; from war abroad to strife at home; from the Age of Austen to the Age of Dickens.

However, in looking at the children one can never forget the parents, and even grandparents. And this moves us back to the 1760s and the birth of the parent-generation.

I began writing an article about the Goslings recently, which just has to start off with two ladies: Mrs Eliza Gosling née Cunliffe and Mrs Eliza Chute née Smith. I like to think of them as The Two Elizas. Funny thing is, they both married men named William! (Very confusing for the casual reader, no?)

One Eliza, Mrs Gosling, was mother to Mary Gosling; the other Eliza, who had no children of her own, was aunt to Emma Smith. Therefore, for two generations these two families had what they themselves described as relationships between ‘sisters-of-the-heart’. Friendships so close that the two women involved felt like sisters. Eliza Chute had three sisters; Eliza Gosling alas had only one. Emma Smith had five sisters, while Mary Gosling had two, but one to which she had a close-close bond.

I cannot prove that either Mrs Gosling, or the two girls, Emma and Mary, ever met Jane Austen (until there comes a new diary, or an as-yet-unread letter…). But Eliza Chute knew her, entertained her even.

In recent years, researchers have begun to look into the diaries of Eliza Chute of The Vyne. This estate, which can be visited as it belongs now to the National Trust, is located in the parish of Sherborne St John (some few miles from Basingstoke). The man who ministered to the congregation on Sundays was none other than the Rev. James Austen, Jane’s eldest brother. Even a cursory review of Deirdre Le Faye’s wonderful Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family (2006) shows how many Sundays James returned to The Vyne for a repast. In later years he would be accompanied by his son, James-Edward (known as Edward in the family). This little boy grew up to write A Memoir of Jane Austen under the name he took in 1837: James Edward Austen-Leigh.

I’m still digging into the short life of Eliza Gosling and the early life of Eliza Chute – and am actively seeking any information on the Two Elizas, in the form of letters, diaries, even mentions in published books. For instance, Eliza Gosling, when a girl and still Eliza Cunliffe, met James Boswell. She and her sister (‘Miss Cunliff’) are mentioned in Boswell’s letters! Sometimes it is a very small world. I have cause to say that over and again.

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