Among the many, many activities taking place on the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s death earlier this month was the unveiling of a new Janeite landmark: a life-size bronze of Austen, purportedly the first-ever statue of the author, portrayed striding through the center of Basingstoke, the nearest big town to her birthplace in Steventon.
Blog readers will recall that I was a bit skeptical about this project when it was first announced, since we don’t really know what Austen looked like. But I must say that, as far as I can judge from the images available online, I’m pleasantly surprised by the final product.
Of course, it’s still not possible to say whether the statue is a good likeness of Austen – we’ll never know that about any representation of her, since we don’t have any way of comparing images to the original. But the alert, observant gaze captured in sculptor Adam Roud’s bronze gives, to my mind, an appealing idea of Our Jane.
Roud’s Austen is not elevated on a pedestal; clad in pelisse and bonnet, she mingles with passersby at ground level, as if she’s on her way to do some shopping, or to return the book she’s carrying to a circulating library. I can already imagine the newest line in tourist photos: devoted Janeite walks companionably by Austen’s side, engrossed in conversation.