Monday, June 27, 2011

Professor Claudia Johnson of Princeton University comments on the Rice Portrait of Jane Austen

I'd like to thank Professor Claudia Johnson of Princeton University for kindly granting permission to reproduce this article. It's a wonderful piece of writing!

If one were to contend that the portrait is not Jane Austen, one is dealing with the following scenario:
Jane Austen The Rice Portrait

That Colonel Thomas Austen, who knew Jane Austen personally and was a member of her family gave the portrait as Jane Austen, but knowing that it was not, while innumerable people who personally knew Jane Austen were still alive, to a person who either knew Jane Austen personally or greatly admired the novelist, who accepted it as being of Jane Austen (even though it wa not) and who was married to Thomas Harding-Newman who knew Jane Austen personally and may have proposed to her and who presumably accepted it as Jane Austen (even though he knew it was not); all this at a time when innumerable people who knew Jane Austen personally were still alive.

That she (Elizabeth Hall) gave it to her step-son Dr Thomas Harding-Newman, a don at Magdalen College Oxford, who knew many people who had known Jane Austen personally and accepted it as being of Jane Austen (even though it was not) and that he gave it, via another don, to a member of Jane Austen's family.

That in 1884 the historian of the family whose mother had lived in the same house as Jane Austen for ten years (and had only died twelve years before 1884) had INDEPENDENTLY CORROBORATED the identity of the sitter as Jane Austen, but she must have been mistaken. ("She knew before of the painting in your possession").
Professor Claudia Johnson - Murray Professor of English Literature, Princeton University


(The historian of the family referred to is Fanny-Caroline Lefroy)

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