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55 Responses

  1. Hugh
    Hugh December 19, 2013 at 11:51 am |

    I think we may be about to have That Conversation again.

    1. TimmyTwinkles
      TimmyTwinkles December 19, 2013 at 11:55 am |

      What’s That Conversation, I’m in the dark

      1. Hugh
        Hugh December 20, 2013 at 9:14 am |

        The Jane Austen Conversation (Caps intended)

  2. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune December 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm |

    But

    but

    if we take Austen seriously

    what’s next, huh?

    WOMEN’S RIGHTS????????

  3. ashurredly
    ashurredly December 19, 2013 at 12:15 pm |

    Seriously? “Conventionally pretty” = vapid? We have to go there again?

    Honestly, with people like authors it would make more sense to put their words on money, not their faces. No portrait of an author can actually convey what they managed to do in their art.

    1. Athenia
      Athenia December 19, 2013 at 3:25 pm |

      Plus, I wouldn’t say all of her heroines are “vapid.” Fanny Price and Elizabeth Bennett certainly aren’t!

      1. Gretchen
        Gretchen December 20, 2013 at 8:56 am |

        I don’t think the author of the post was suggesting they are, rather that they have been translated that way in recent films.

        1. Athenia
          Athenia December 20, 2013 at 9:47 am |

          Huh. I know a lot of people had issues with the most recent Mansfield Park, but I thought Kiera Knightly’s Pride and Prejudice actually did a better job “dressing down” the characters whereas the much loved BBC TV series totally made the girls look all primped.

  4. TimmyTwinkles
    TimmyTwinkles December 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |

    Meh, i thought the likenesses looked pretty damn similar. I don’t normally feel this way, but I think the author was really reaching on this one. In my opinion this is a great example of white professional-class feminism failing at intersectionality. But that’s just Twinkles buck ‘o five, YMMV.

    1. Miriam
      Miriam December 20, 2013 at 2:55 am |

      How is this a failure of intersectionality? Jane Austen was an upper class white woman who wrote novels featuring predominantly upper class white female characters. The article is a critique of how Jane Austen is being pictorially represented on a UK bank note.

      1. kittehserf
        kittehserf December 20, 2013 at 3:38 am |

        Lower end of the landed gentry – not really upper class, at least in the sense of the wealthy or powerful or titled. Her situation was precarious at times, much like the women she wrote about (P&P and S&S, for instance), though that’s partly because of not having their own independent finances.

        1. kittehserf
          kittehserf December 20, 2013 at 3:40 am |

          But yeah, I definitely don’t see how this is a failure of intersectionality – it’s talking about representations of a particular person.

      2. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles December 20, 2013 at 4:02 am |

        I concur. In fact, you make my point better than I did. The post is about an upper class white woman who wrote about upper class characters, in books whose readership has historically largely consisted of mid to upper class white women. The author also seems to be presuming that her readers have the privilege to be appropriately concerned with how the patriarchy is manifesting itself in UK paper money. It even sounds like a college course. Is this not a textbook example of a middle-class white feminist issue? Not trying to be an ass but it seems like it to me, though maybe i’m totally off-base.

        1. Medea
          Medea December 20, 2013 at 4:20 am |

          There are UK-based people who read this site and will be handling that money every day. Why would this be unimportant to them?

        2. EG
          EG December 20, 2013 at 8:46 am |

          I handle US money every day and I really could not possibly dredge up any amount of caring about the accuracy of the portraits thereon.

        3. Donna L
          Donna L December 20, 2013 at 8:54 am |

          So you’re assuming that nobody but white upper-class women reads Jane Austen or has any interest in her?

          In any event, I don’t think any individual post constitutes a failure of intersectionality. If you want to talk about the cumulative impact of large numbers of posts about X, without any posts about Y (or a tiny number of them), that’s a different story.

        4. macavitykitsune
          macavitykitsune December 20, 2013 at 8:58 am |

          The author also seems to be presuming that her readers have the privilege to be appropriately concerned with how the patriarchy is manifesting itself in UK paper money.

          Christ, maybe some people are just INTERESTED. I sure am, and I’m not going to be handling hundreds of pounds in the next month.

        5. ldouglas
          ldouglas December 20, 2013 at 9:10 am |

          If you want to talk about the cumulative impact of large numbers of posts about X, without any posts about Y (or a tiny number of them), that’s a different story.

          This. I have no problem with a ‘white upper-class feminist issue’ getting some attention once in a while; I have a huge problem if those are the only things that get talked about, which hasn’t seemed like the trend here, at least as long as I’ve been here.

        6. GayDahlia
          GayDahlia December 20, 2013 at 9:30 am |

          @MacavityKitsune

          Efficiency of social justice discussion is of paramount importance. We all must be concerned only with the manifestation of patriarchy in material objects within a ten foot radius.

        7. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles December 20, 2013 at 11:01 am |

          Fair enough. I guess one of the things I really like about an intersectional analysis is the utilitarian aspect: any person/group/site has a finite amount of time, energy and capability; and when you take into account multiple theories of oppression, many women are affected more urgently by factors like class, race and sexual/gender orientation etc. So it would make practical sense to shift focus and efforts to intersectional issues. That’s where I was coming from anyway, but I was probably being nitpicky and I agree with Donna and ldouglas in terms of cumulative impact. Donna and Mac, i most definitely did not mean to imply that only upper class white women can/should be interested in Jane Austen; I’m sorry it came across that way.

        8. Fat Steve
          Fat Steve December 20, 2013 at 1:57 pm |

          … I’m not going to be handling hundreds of pounds in the next month.

          Sounds like poor Val’s gonna be lonely this Christmas :(

    2. EG
      EG December 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm |

      I don’t think it’s a failure of intersectionality, but I do think there’s a remarkable absence of analysis connecting a petty example with any larger issues. The larger issues are there–the way that no matter a woman’s achievements, she is required to be conventionally attractive, to be publicly honored, for one; what the last 20 years of Jane Austen mania might say about how we conceptualize gender relations, for another; the utter foolishness of choosing someone of whom there is only one rather crude and uninformative likeness to put a picture of on a note (OK, that’s not a gender issue, but really, WTF? That’s just a stupid move to begin with.).

      But the authors don’t write about any of that; instead they fall back on a facile “pretty=vapid” equation, with the result that even though I know intellectually that this example is representative of larger issues, it’s hard for me to care much about this.

      1. TimmyTwinkles
        TimmyTwinkles December 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm |

        Yeah great points. I think the dis-connection to the larger issues you pointed out was a big part of what was nagging at me about the post.
        Sidenote regarding conventional attractiveness and public recognition: I have a number of issues with Fox News, but one of the ones I dont hear talked about enough is how much they contribute to our culture’s warped perception of women when EVERY female anchor or contributor is uniformly conventionally attractive. Definitely don’t mean to imply that attractive women should have any less credibility, but Fox sends a very clear message to its viewers on how women should be evaluated.

      2. Miranda
        Miranda December 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm |

        The larger issues are there–the way that no matter a woman’s achievements, she is required to be conventionally attractive, to be publicly honored, for one; what the last 20 years of Jane Austen mania might say about how we conceptualize gender relations, for another;

        Yeah. I don’t want to pick on Austen, but I do think it’s telling that she is always the poster girl for British female lit–or sometimes female literature altogether–in high schools. Which is not a comment on Austen, more a comment on…which female writers get attention and which continuously do not.

        Also I really don’t get this post. I’ll just come out and say it: I don’t get a lot of Laurie and Debbie’s post, and they seem to frequently have some kind of underlying problem in them.

        But I’m uncomfortable with the “THIS IS AN INTERSECTIONALITY FAIL” because it smacks of, “Children are dying in ___[insert country here]___, don’t you people have better things to talk about?”

        1. TimmyTwinkles
          TimmyTwinkles December 20, 2013 at 1:53 pm |

          I can see how my criticism could read like that. Definitely not trying to dictate to anyone what they should talk about. In retrospect, i wouldnt come at it from intersectionality, but would make the same criticism EG did; that the author does an almost non-existent job of showing how this ties into larger issues.

        2. Miranda
          Miranda December 20, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

          Yeah I agree with you, and EG, on that.

  5. Elly
    Elly December 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm |

    I don’t see anywhere where the author equates “conventionally pretty” with “vapid.”

    That said, I’d argue that reworkings of the original portrait that omit the harsh lines, pursed, thin lips, and crossed arms are, indeed, vapid. As in, softened to the point of insipidness. The original reads as a real portrait of a real person while the reworkings do not.

    1. EG
      EG December 19, 2013 at 2:10 pm |

      Their Jane bears no resemblance to the woman in Cassandra’s portrait, but is rather a 21st century version of a vapid Jane Austen heroine in the popular movies.

      Since the Jane on the bill doesn’t do or say anything, the only indication that she’s “vapid” has to be her prettified looks.

      the image creates a myth Austen was a demure spinster and not a deep-thinking author

      Similarly…is there a reason these two are supposed to be mutually exclusive? Besides patriarchy? Because Austen certainly was a spinster. As for “demure”–books are not a reliable guide to what somebody’s like in real life. Given her historical contest, I’d be surprised if Austen wasn’t modest, one meaning of the word.

      1. Elly
        Elly December 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm |

        The Jane on the bill is idealized. She is not a portrait of anyone in particular. Compared to the original portrait by Austen’s sister, Cassandra, the image on the bill is lifeless and insipid. That is what I took the author’s use of “vapid” to mean.

        And I wonder what the Regency etiquette police would have thought of Jane’s crossed arms and tightly drawn mouth (large color version here)? Neither of which made it into the remixes, of course.

      2. EG
        EG December 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm |

        Compared to the original portrait by Austen’s sister, Cassandra, the image on the bill is lifeless and insipid.

        How is that lifelessness and insipidity represented–by conventional prettiness? Because the quick and rough sketch by Cassandra doesn’t seem to me any more vibrant and insightful. Again, what makes conventional attractiveness insipid?

        Given that we have no idea whether Cassandra’s sketch is a particularly good likeness, I really don’t see what you’re seeing as the massive difference. Maybe Cassandra was a lousy artist and Jane was just in a crabby mood that day–maybe that sketch is no more representative than the banknote.

        1. Miriam
          Miriam December 20, 2013 at 2:50 am |

          In Cassandra’s sketch, Jane appears deep in thought. In the bank note, she seems like a marble column. Maybe Cassandra was a lousy artist, but I am honestly surprised that anyone seriously disagrees with the original author’s contention that the painting and bank note soften Jane and make her seem less thoughtful. I, personally, don’t even care about this (well, I don’t care about it on the evidence of these images… I’d need to see contrasting images of men on UK bank notes to have an opinion on whether this is a genre issue or a gender issue), but I still see the authors’ point.

        2. Funty
          Funty December 20, 2013 at 5:25 am |

          British.
          They use the exact tame etching methods to make the men appear even more patriarchally craggy than before. No body would even think of giving the engineer George Stephenson set of big placid eyes.

          Getting rid of the lines a face’ll get when you use it to react to things, emote and express yourself is what makes for lifeless insipidity.

        3. EG
          EG December 20, 2013 at 9:22 am |

          I really don’t see how, unless one equates crabbiness with thoughtfulness and prettiness with vapidity, the sketch could portray a more “thoughtful” woman than the banknote.

          Nor do I see what makes her eyes supposedly so “placid.” As for lines and insipidity–that just sounds like equating youth with insipidity to me, and I don’t buy that.

          How craggy do you want Austen to be? She died at 42, if I’m remembering correctly.

  6. anna_k
    anna_k December 19, 2013 at 2:56 pm |

    a 21st century version of a vapid Jane Austen heroine in the popular movies.

    Unfair. I think many of the “popular movies” focus too much on the romance and not enough on the biting social commentary, but name me one production that made the heroine vapid, honestly. Even the ITV Northanger Abbey production, which arguably had the most leeway to do this with Catherine Morland’s funny teenage Gothic fixation, didn’t make her out to be vapid, just young and romantic in quite a sweet way. The actresses may have been beautiful but the parts they played weren’t automatically vapid for it – I think that gives very little credit to the power of Jane Awesome’s female characters, even when translated to screen.

    Each time her image is remade to suit society’s comfortable picture of a powerless, non-threatening, pretty woman.

    Okay, I get how you might just be talking about society’s idea of tying powerlessness and prettiness together there, but when you also say in contrast that

    The real Jane Austen is ironic, insightful and anything but unthreatening in her treatment of human beings and their relationships.

    how did you mean that to come across on a 10 quid note, exactly, unless you are equating depth with lack of conventional pretty?

  7. Athenia
    Athenia December 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm |

    I don’t see much difference between the photos. Can you clarify exactly how the other images are different? The BBC quote says the costume is all wrong, but I dunno, if you look closely at the sketch, the costumes look very similar to me except one is in color.

    The only other difference I can tell is that in the sketch she has deeper lines under her eyes and cheeks which are softened in the other images. I mean, I guess you could make her more hard looking—depending on how you interpret a black and white sketch into other mediums.

    1. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
      The Kittehs' Unpaid Help December 19, 2013 at 8:59 pm |

      That’s the bit that got me – what’s wrong with the dress in the Lizar painting? The only real difference is that there’s a frill on the neckline of the fill-in part (my mind’s gone blank on the actual name of the garment). It looks a little dressier than the at-home impression of the sketch, but there’s nothing wrong with the style of it. They haven’t done a Hollywood and shoved Elizabeth Bennett into a crinoline …

    2. trees
      trees December 19, 2013 at 9:52 pm |

      The BBC quote says the costume is all wrong, but I dunno, if you look closely at the sketch, the costumes look very similar to me except one is in color.

      The waist should be higher, and the neckline seems more Victorian than Regency.

      1. kittehserf
        kittehserf December 20, 2013 at 3:36 am |

        The waistline’s not far below the bust, which is definitely not Victorian; fill-ins for the neckline were around in the earlier period, and one can see JA’s wearing one in the original sketch.

        English dress, c 1810:

        http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13822/dress-unknown/

        1. trees
          trees December 20, 2013 at 7:52 am |

          The waistline’s not far below the bust, which is definitely not Victorian; fill-ins for the neckline were around in the earlier period, and one can see JA’s wearing one in the original sketch.

          The waist looks pretty low to me. That looks like a necklace, not a fill in, at the neck.

  8. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve December 19, 2013 at 3:48 pm |

    That said, I’d argue that reworkings of the original portrait that omit the harsh lines, pursed, thin lips, and crossed arms are, indeed, vapid. As in, softened to the point of insipidness. The original reads as a real portrait of a real person while the reworkings do not.

    I’d argue that the way the reworkings have given her knuckled fingers, ear lobes, ruffles on her hat and dress, and a proportional neck makes her look more like a real person in an actual tangible way. Both reworkings are interpretations of what a woman might look like based on a pencil sketch of her. I don’t see how pursed lips and folded arms are indicative of anything more than how that person was feeling at that moment in time. A painted portrait for a book collection or currency is supposed to be a representation of that person, a pencil sketch is supposed to capture a moment in time. This is comparing apples and oranges.

    1. Donna L
      Donna L December 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm |

      I agree that it would be a mistake to assume from Cassandra’s sketch that Jane Austen spent her entire life walking around with crossed arms and pursed lips, or that Cassandra intended the sketch to represent the timeless essence of Jane’s character. I very much doubt that Cassandra had any idea when she did that sketch that it would turn out 200 years later to be the only surviving life portrait of Jane.

      That said, I see no physical resemblance whatsoever between the sketch and the portrait on the banknote. I would never know that they were the same person; the banknote portrayal looks like a film actress. The 1870 portrait, on the other hand, does look like the same person as the sketch, albeit with a different expression, different arm position, and ruffles.

    2. Athenia
      Athenia December 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm |

      Yeah, plus she actually has pupils/irises in the other two images which probably adds to the soften image.

  9. Donna L
    Donna L December 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm |

    By the way, there appears to be a growing consensus, based on scientific analysis, that the so-called “Rice” portrait is, in fact, a genuine portrait of Jane Austen at 13. Note that she apparently was capable of smiling:

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/jun/08/jane-austen-portrait-as-young-girl

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/06/new-jane-austen-portrait.html

  10. Avi
    Avi December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm |

    I’d say she looks dignified and stately on that banknote. That’s primarily what happens to a portrait when you put it on money. Money grants a certain gravitas to the portrait. Even the ugliest old male politician can look dignified when he’s on a coin or bill.

  11. Jane Austen Is Not A Pretty Girl – Body Impolitic - Laurie Toby Edison: Photographer

    […] Cross-posted on Feministe) […]

  12. eilish
    eilish December 21, 2013 at 12:55 am |

    Her nieces/nephews described Austen as having very full red cheeks and a small mouth. Cassandra’s drawing is of a round face with a pointed chin.
    They’ve done to Austen what they did to Charlotte Bronte. The purpose of the image is to please the observer, not represent the actual woman.
    Once again the reality of a woman has been replaced with an unrealistic image.

    That said, it was going to be hell to get Cassandra’s drawing onto the banknote. The images on Australian notes seem to be drawn from photos. Much easier to represent.

  13. BroadBlogs
    BroadBlogs December 21, 2013 at 1:18 am |

    That first portrait of Jane Austen is great. Really interesting. She looks like a rebel, even compared to how women pose today. And love this on her female characters: “far more interested in their personalities and interactions than their looks.”

  14. Arnie Perlstein
    Arnie Perlstein December 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm |

    Jane Austen was actually a covert radical feminist, and so the Bank of England’s planning to use the Bowdlerized portrait on the 10 pound note is a particularly unpleasant irony:

    http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2013/07/searching-in-vain-for-real-jane-austen.html

    Cheers,

    ARNIE PERLSTEIN

    1. Donna L
      Donna L December 25, 2013 at 11:21 pm |

      Radical feminist? I’m always curious what people mean when they use that term. Especially when they’re talking about somebody who died almost 200 years ago. Do you mean “radical” like Mary Wollstonecraft was considered radical?

  15. Arnie Perlstein
    Arnie Perlstein December 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm |

    Donna, thank you for your question, what I meant by “radical’ was ‘very strong’–i.e., JA was even more of a feminist than Mary Wollstonecraft, to whose writings JA alluded in all of her novels, e.g., read the following:

    http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-easy-transition-from-overt-feminism.html

    (this is one of many posts at my blog about Austen’s complicated reactions to Wollstonecraft)

    I believe Jane Austen was an even stronger feminist than Mary WSC, because Jane Austen hated not only the oppression of women in her society, but also the hypocrisy of the pretense that women were treated well, a pretense which permeated every aspect of the male power structure of her world.

    And Jane Austen’s “hobby horse” was the plague of serial pregnancy and death in childbirth that haunted married Englishwomen of the middle and upper classes.

    Cheers, ARNIE
    @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

    1. Donna L
      Donna L December 26, 2013 at 5:00 pm |

      Thanks for responding. I think, though, that “radical feminist” as used here and elsewhere has long had such a specific meaning, which really has nothing to do with the way you’ve used it — never mind the other connotations the term has for many feminists — that it’s probably a good idea not to use it in the general way you have, so as to avoid any misunderstandings as to what you’re trying to convey.

      1. eilish
        eilish December 26, 2013 at 7:38 pm |

        If your radical feminism is covert, it’s not very radical.

        1. Donna L
          Donna L December 26, 2013 at 9:24 pm |

          Now I’m confused — does that have something to do with what either I or Arnie said? Do you understand what I was referring to by mentioning radical feminism as something of a term of art? The whole “radical = root = prime cause of everything” concept?

        2. Arnie Perlstein
          Arnie Perlstein December 28, 2013 at 1:42 pm |

          Eilish, it’s true that Jane Austen was definitely not willing to be martyred for her strong beliefs. She had only to observe, during her late twenties and early thirties prior to her first getting published in 1811, the way Mary WSC’s reputation was savagely crucified by the conservative male elite after her horrific death in childbirth.

          Plus, I really don’t think she could have gotten published if she had been explicit.

          But, even if you believe that she lacked the courage of her convictions (I don’t), that doesn’t change what i claim is the very strong feminism that pervades her subtext, much stronger than what is overtly visible within reading between the lines.

          Donna, what would be your recommendation for the word(s) I should use to describe Jane Austen’s covert, strong satire and critique of sexist injustice in her world? Feel free to give as much detail as you want, I certainly would like to describe her in a way that will not create any confusion.

          Cheers, ARNIE
          @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

  16. Arnie Perlstein
    Arnie Perlstein December 26, 2013 at 12:48 pm |

    By the way, apropos Jane Austen and female body image, are any of you familiar with the controversy in Austen circles about the unflattering description of Mrs. Musgrove’s body in Persuasion?

    I gave my interpretation of that narrative description here:

    http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.com/2013/08/mrs-musgrove-is-anne-elliots-looming.html

    Basically, I argue that most readers have mistakenly attributed that unflattering description of Mrs. Musgrove to Jane Austen herself, when it is instead, I suggest, the thinking of the heroine Anne Elliot.

    Cheers, ARNIE
    @JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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