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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

As seen by AI

Jane Austen famously supplies few physical descriptions of her characters – little beyond eye color, hair color, or relative height, and sometimes not even that. This reticence leaves readers free to imagine that Elizabeth Bennet or Elinor Dashwood looks like. . . a Bratz doll.

Or so we might conclude from a recent Buzzfeed piece contributed by a community member who goes by books_baking_broadway and headlined, “We Used AI To Show What Jane Austen Characters Would Look Like In Real Life Based On The Books.”

The piece displays the results gleaned by filtering Austen’s sparse descriptions of ten female and five male characters through an online AI tool called Artbreeder.

Apparently, AI — or perhaps books_baking_broadway -- has a weakness for super-high foreheads, enormous eyes, and pouty mouths, at least when it comes to Austen women.

AI Fanny Price Bratz dolls

Austen men, as envisaged by Artbreeder and b_b_b, mostly resemble Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid, except with longer sideburns.

AI Henry Tilney Prince Eric

Needless to say, none of the images looks much like a person who grew up without access to sunscreen, conditioner, or effective dental care.

In fact, to me, none of the images looks much like a person, full stop – or at least, like a person with the unmistakable individuality of a Jane Austen character. (Apparently, I’m not alone in drawing this conclusion: Sixty-seven of the 102 people responding to the feature rated it “fail,” with many commenters slamming the images as bland, undifferentiated, and creepy.)

But here’s the great thing about Jane Austen: Since she didn’t tell us what her people look like, if you’re an AI with a thing for big eyes, you’re free to imagine whatever you like.


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