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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Bronzing Jane, again

Exactly five years ago, Winchester Cathedral proposed erecting a statue of Jane Austen in the Cathedral Close, in tribute to the most famous person buried under the church’s venerable floor. Within months, however, the idea was dead, swamped by community backlash against the statue’s appearance, location, and proposed £250,000 price tag (about $315,000).

 

But it seems the idea wasn’t dead after all--because Winchester Cathedral has just announced plans to erect a very similar statue of Jane Austen in the Cathedral Close. This time, the price tag is reportedly only £100,000 (about $126,000) and the Cathedral claims that “most of the funding . . . has already been secured through donations, grants and pledges”—including £10,000 contributions from both the Winchester City Council and possibly the Hampshire County Council.

 

In 2018, the statue, designed by British sculptor Martin Jennings, was to be a full-length bronze of Austen standing, one hand on her writing desk, against a bas-relief backdrop of a tree in leaf. The new version, also by Jennings, appears to be a scaled-down version of the 2018 proposal: the same life-size figure of Austen and her desk, but this time with no backdrop.

 

Whether the relatively modest scale of the new statue will head off the objections that sank the project last time remains to be seen. (Personally, I thought the old version was ugly and the new one is . . . less ugly.) Clearly, the Cathedral has been working harder this time to develop a consensus, going so far as to solicit admiring reviews from Austen biographer Paula Byrne, Austen scholar Gillian Dow, and celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh.

 

Signs of discontent have already surfaced, with a handful of online commenters (scroll down and click on comments link) going by delightfully on-the-nose names like Local_Bloke and agrumpyoldman suggesting that the county grant is a poor use of taxpayer money at a time of other budget cutbacks. But local officials are clearly banking on the new statue becoming a tourist draw that will eventually pay for itself.

 

Plans call for construction to begin in April and finish in time for the 2025 celebration of the 250th anniversary of Austen’s birth, which is likely to bring a flood of Janeite tourists to Austen country. Tourism officials claim that the 2017 bicentennial of Austen’s death drew 265,500 extra visitors to Hampshire, generating nearly £21 million (about $26.8 million) in direct spending and new jobs.

 

I guess they just have to hope that the Austen statue will get better reviews than the Wollstonecraft one.

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2 Comments


amsprayberry
Dec 14, 2023

Hmmm. It's not the worst modern depiction of JA I've ever seen--but all the same, she looks to me less "quietly confident" about sending out her mss. as "quietly confident" that whoever messes with her or the materials on her writing table is gonna get decked. (In this aspect, at least, I do sense a kinship with Cassandra's portrait!)

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Deborah Yaffe
Deborah Yaffe
Dec 14, 2023
Replying to

LOL! Highlighting JA's little-known pugilistic side. . .

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