Nobody knows what Jane Austen looked like. Nobody will ever know what Jane Austen looked like. So, naturally, we’ll soon have a new image of Jane Austen, this time in bronze.
The English town of Basingstoke, not far from Austen’s birthplace of Steventon, plans to commemorate the July bicentenary of her death by placing a life-size statue in the town center. Last week, the sculptor from whom the Hampshire Cultural Trust commissioned the work, a local artist named Adam Roud, unveiled a preliminary model, known as a maquette.
The trust has turned to crowdfunding to raise the last £10,000 needed to complete the £100,000 project, and presumably they hoped that displaying the maquette would encourage Janeites around the world to pitch in to complete what is apparently the first-ever statue of our beloved author.
Will it work? Well, maybe. It’s hard to tell from the maquette -- which shows a slender woman in a pelisse and bonnet, captured mid-stride, with a book under her arm -- exactly what the statue’s face will look like. In other words, it’s hard to tell which of the various clashing images of Austen (see my previous blogs on this issue, here and here) Roud has selected for his "strong-willed and independent character.” And if you'd asked me -- unaccountably, no one did -- I would have recommended showing Austen at her writing desk, since she is famous for, you know, her writing.
Personally, I’m never satisfied with images of Austen: they never quite live up to the version in my head. But I can certainly imagine worse people to honor with a life-size bronze.