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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My review of Paula Byrne's BBC program "Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait"

At YouTube, the full program! (at least for now):

Short answer: WATCH IT!

My longer take:

The show repeatedly makes a very big deal about knowing what Jane Austen's face really looked like, which is not surprising in a show written to be shown to a wide, mostly non-Janeite audience. It was distracting, but not a problem, because there was a great deal of substance presented in a lucid flow of information.

The details of the investigation are spell-binding to watch.

I 1000% agree with Byrne, Claudia Johnson, and others quoted in the program, that JA was intensely proud of her own status as an author, and she would have wanted to have herself portrayed in this way. It's amazing that this is even a question, but then 200 years of deliberately misleading propaganda is hard to defeat--I hope this portrait will pave the way for that process to accelerate.

Byrne makes the same point I've made many times about JA at the time she was getting Emma published--how it never entered her head that she'd be dead within 2 years. This portrait was made at a moment when JA felt she had climbed within sight of the top of the literary mountain.

I didn't know that "Chute" was pronounced "CHOOT", I thought it was pronounced "SHOOT", as in "Chutes and Ladders".

I just read a tweet by Paula Byrne in which she hopes she has received a lead as to the provenance of the portrait via the name "Helen Carruthers", a governess. I think that is going to go somewhere interesting very quickly.

Whoever said that Deirdre Le Faye was misrepresented in the program is way offbase. Le Faye is definitively herself in the program--completely wrong, completely stubborn in holding to her negative response. I saw her say the same kind of thing a dozen times at the Chawton House Conference. Huge kudos to Sutherland, Johnson and Byrne that they did not in any way accede to Le Faye's ostrichism, but stuck to their guns, and pointed out the absurdity of Le Faye's lame criticisms---just watch for yourselves, you will see this happening.

It still doesn't prove that the portrait is actually one done of Jane Austen by Eliza Chute, but there's a LOT of smoke in the air, and I have hopes that the fire will be discovered soon.

Cheers, ARNIE

1 comment:

Arnie Perlstein said...

And I should have added, here again is the link to my blog post written many months ago, in which I, without the slightest glimmering that Paula Byrne was going to bring this portrait forward to the world, wrote about my own strong sense that Jane Austen and Eliza Chute would have been strong, feminist friends, under the radar of their male relations who might not have approved:

The strong feminist subtext of the portrait fits perfectly with what I said, above.