Nearly a month ago, when word of Paula Byrne bringing forward an alleged 1815 portrait of Jane Austen first spread like wildfire through the Austen online world, I expressed my strong skepticism here....
From what Byrne said publicly in early December, in particular her totally unconvincing argument that imaginary portraits were an imaginary genre, I was not impressed at all, but, being the lawyer I am, I did add this caveat/hedge at the end of my negative assessment:
"So....unless Byrne has other ammunition in her gunbelt (such as, e.g., some scientific basis for dating the portrait with precision to 1815), I am 100% skeptical that this could be the real Jane Austen in that portrait!"
Well, I _still_ have not seen the BBC2 program in which Byrne fires the remainder of her ammunition, but now I have a very different, and much more favorable, point of view about Byrne's claims, now that I have just read about them in an excellent, detailed, yet not verbose, blog post by Kelly McDonald of the JASNA Vermont chapter here:
I urge you all to read that post!
So Eliza Chute (nee Smith) was the "bullet" that Byrne had been waiting to "fire" (and as per her comment on Kelly's post, this was apparently because of a very strong nondisclosure agreement she had to sign for the BBC, which makes perfect sense)!
Based on what I read in Kelly's blog post, I now find Byrne's argument _much_ more interesting!
I first became familiar with Kelly's blog seven months ago, in June, 2011, when I wrote a post in which I wrote a great deal about the very interesting Eliza (nee Smith) Chute, and her intriguing connection to Jane Austen:
In the above post, which I also urge you to read in full, I made the argument that Eliza Chute was just the kind of proto-feminist woman whom JA would have befriended, and I argued that the reference in JA's Letter 23 (dated 10/25-27/1800) to "Heathcote and Chute forever" was not about Eliza Chute's husband the MP, but was really a joking reference to Eliza Chute and her friend Mrs. Heathcote, and their "campaign" for women's rights, not in Parliament or in a court of law, but in the bedroom or the salon of the home, where the real action was! And I have since then found other evidence to support the "portrait" of Eliza Chute as a literate, articulate, forceful woman who would have been an ardent supporter of the covert radical feminism I claim is at the heart of Jane Austen's fiction.
So....in light of all _that_, plus all the details that I gleaned from Kelly's blog post, linked above--such as the view of that church from Eliza Chute's window, her skill at portraiture, and spelling "Austen" as "Austin", etc., I am now much more interested in this Byrne portrait as possibly being the work of Eliza Chute, and also being of Jane Austen herself. That it does not look at all like the Jane Austen we see in Cassandra's 1810 watercolor, well.....I don't know what to think about that.
And, again, at least now I can understand why Byrne had to save her big gun for the TV program itself--without Eliza Chute, Byrne's argument is essentially a house of cards. With it, however, it is a viable theory, because Eliza Chute is the "glue" that holds all those cards together and keeps them from collapsing in a heap!
Now I am listening, and I can't wait to watch the BBC show when it airs in the US, or when it gets onto the Internet somewhere that I can actually watch it, as I imagine it has even more tantalizing goodies that did not make it into Kelly's blog post.
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