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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Three Faces of Jane: An Update....and A New Perspective!

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. 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.



Arnie Perlstein said...

More on the Paula Byrne claim of an Austen portrait, which I just came across in Byrne's Twitter feed:

"...The St Margaret’s connection led to Eliza Chute, who knew the Austen family. She married at St Margaret’s, meaning the church had significance for her. She lived close to it in London – at one point in the programme it said that she had a view of St Margaret’s from her window, which means it is possible that Jane sat for her portrait in Eliza’s home – and she was a talented amateur artist. This led to the speculation that she could have painted the portrait. And this is where, for me, the programme
started to get really interesting. The Austen portrait is GRAPHITE ON
VELLUM, a technique which had fallen out of favour at the start of the eighteenth century. It was therefore a curious technique to use at the time the portrait was executed because it was already about a hundred years out of date, but it is known that Eliza Chute used this technique in a portrait of her sister. There are more details of this here: "

I had overlooked that factoid about graphite on vellum when I first read that smithandgosling post I also linked to earlier.

If it's _really_ true that portraits in graphite on vellum were a very unusual technique to be used in 19th Century England, and if Eliza Chute really was one of those rare practitioners, then this starts to sound like
one of those true life crime cases that can seen almost any hour of the day on one cable TV channel or another---sounds like the equivalent of saying that Eliza Chute's "artistic DNA" was "found" on both the alleged Austen portrait _and_ the known Chute sister portrait!

Fantastic stuff!

Cheers, ARNIE

Mandy N said...

Ooh! Arnie, you admit you are wrong ??

Arnie Perlstein said...

The charming Mandy N, whose mainstay in the Republic of Pemberley is cluelessness, how nice to see you again!

Mandy, of course, like any open minded person, I change my position on an interpretation, when I see another side to the question.

I would be interested in your opinion if you were actually honest and smart enough to acknowledge when I am corect, but until pigs fly, as they say, I will have to be content with laughing at you exactly as you laugh at me.

You are welcome to actually put your opinion on the line anywhere in my blog (you now have nearly 700 of them to choose among!), as long as you are specific in your criticism.

Cheers, ARNIE

Mandy N said... the pointy headed elf tries to bite with sharp teeth, aye? ;-D
And what, specifically, do you want me to agree with you about Arnie?
Hmm.... If you must pick at my historian's brain, for what my opinion is worth; The portait may be any lady friend at Elizabeth Chute's home seated near a view of St. Margaret's Churh whom she'd chosen to paint- the graphite on vellum technique after 1720 only verifies the painter, not who the sitter is- so not necessarily Jane Austen.
It doesn't need um, a sharp elf to figure the 'professional writer' idea sinks abit as during Jane Austen's era, genteel ladies were commonly portrayed in images at 'lesiurely pursuits'; writing letters at desk or reading books.
I think your'e running too much on this radical feminist theory. Ladies were often published as authors in the Regency era, some journals even had well-known lady editors.
By the way, I am quite happy for you to disagree with me, Arnie. So long as you lighten up! Else I must send Lady Catherine round to scold you into harmony and better manners. lol ! Don't take yourself too seriously... I am sure Jane is laughing at you. ;D-

Arnie Perlstein said...


As expected, those porkers did not fly.

Have a great day nonetheless.


Arnie Perlstein said...

I think the Eliza Chute angle is going to bear some very tasty fruit within the coming weeks. The combination of an international TV audience via the Internet, plus Twitter, plus a highly energized and interested Janeite population, is going to greatly accelerate the determination of the provenance of this portrait, and I think it is going to lead to Eliza Chute.

And I think you already anticipate that outcome as well, Mandy, which is why you've already fallen back to the position you took, which I find absurd--i.e., that the portrait was done by Eliza Chute, but (despite the name 'Austin' scribbled on it, and the name "Austen" on the bronze plaque at the bottom of the portrait) of some other woman.

We'll see what happens!

Cheers, ARNIE

Mandy N said...

I hope this is not too subtle for a sharp elf ;D but Elizabeth Chute never spelt the name Austen as they did. In her diaries and letters, she referred to various 'Austins', including Cassandra as 'Miss Austin'. As to the lady in the portrait shown with a book; Jane Austen was not a known author in her lifme; So I doubt it so absurd to consider if this is a picture of another 'Austin' family member.
And speaking of pictures, I must say your name reminds me of a cartoon charcter,so I hope you develop a sense of humour one day. ;-D
Again, I am happy for you to disagree, Arnold!
Cheers and Happy New Year, Mandy N

Arnie Perlstein said...

Just you wait, Henry Higgins...... the last laugh will be mine.

Mandy N said...

I don't wish to dampen puppy enthusiasm Arnie,...All I am doing is keeping an open mind not jumping to conclusions on who is the sitter. Don't hold your breath (well..? ;) But I think It'll be years before the portait is fully authenticated, even if the sitter is Jane.
On a final note, I am satisfied for now with the drawing of Jane by her sister Cassandra, an intelligent and observant woman who knew Jane much better than did Elizabeth Chute.

Oh well, have fun digging in your sandbox and thanks for the chat. ;D

Cheers, Mandy N.

Arnie Perlstein said...

I continue to enjoy your jealous, catty (and yes, still clueless) comments, Mandy, keep 'em comin'!

Mandy N said...

Oh Arnie, I see you still avoid replying directly to what a respondent has posted when they show you up to be a Dull Elf. ;) And you never did realize who Legion is, did you?... Go figure!
I get the impression your'e really anxious to chase me off in case I reveal more of your ignorance of Jane Austen.
Don't worry, I'm done here. lol! Mandy N

Arnie Perlstein said...

Chase you off, Mandy? After your five obnoxious comments in this single thread? You are the show, Mandy, knock yourself out!

Your frequent lucubrations in the rigidly regulated, silly discussions which prevail in the Republic of Pemberley are a humorous reminder to me of the foolish clueless orthodoxy I am doing my part to dismantle.

Notice by the way that you are reading my blog, and not vice versa. I guess you felt my dangerous heresies could no longer be ignored--I am flattered!

Mandy N said...

Ah, you are all too easily flattered. Well, enjoy your silly sandpit. ;)