Having been depicted as a romantic heroine in the film Becoming Jane, Britain’s best-loved author has been given a makeover by a publisher.Curiously, of the Austen siblings, Jane is the only one for whom there is no surviving professional portrait.
According to Wordsworth Editions, which sells millions of cut-price classic novels, the only authentic portrait of Jane Austen is too unattractive.
Helen Trayler, its managing director, said: “The poor old thing didn’t have anything going for her in the way of looks. Her original portrait is very, very dowdy. It wouldn’t be appealing to readers, so I took it upon myself to commission a new picture of her.
“We’ve given her a bit of a makeover, with make-up and some hair extensions and removed her nightcap. Now she looks great — as if she’s just walked out of a salon.”
[Dixit Zadok: The mind boggles.]
The only contemporary portrait of Austen is a sour-faced sketch by her sister Cassandra that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. But the author’s friends and family described her as “very attractive” and “like a doll”, and a niece, Anna, said that Cassandra’s depiction of Jane was “hideously unlike” her.
A Victorian engraving made from that picture formed the basis for the new watercolour, which will appear on the cover of a “deluxe” collection of her works, to appear in September.
Where aesthetics allow, the publisher prefers to use an image of the author on the front cover. Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde all made the grade, but other literary titans may now be in line for airbrushing.
Ms Trayler said: “Virginia Woolf wasn’t much of a looker. I’m also considering making over George Eliot, who was frumpy, and William Wordsworth, who was pretty hideous. Most poets were really unattractive, with the one exception being Tennyson, who has wonderful bone structure.”
Patrick Janson-Smith, a leading literary agent, said: “Portraits of modern authors are airbrushed the whole time, especially American lady authors of a certain age. It’s a shock to meet a writer when the reality falls a little short. We live in a shallow world where authors are increasingly sold on their appearance.”
And also from the Times:
TV is to turn Pride and Prejudice into a time-travel saga. The broadcaster wants to emulate the success of the BBC One series Life on Mars, in which a detective is catapulted back in time, and build on the triumph of a run of Jane Austen adaptations, featuring stars such as Billie Piper.
In Lost in Austen, Amanda, a chardonnay-swigging West London girl, discovers a bonnet-wearing woman in her bathroom who introduces herself as Elizabeth Bennet. Through a series of accidents, Amanda is transported to Regency England, where she melts before Mr Darcy’s brooding glare. Miss Bennet, meanwhile, breathes life into the modern girl’s useless boyfriend.