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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Jane and the feathered friend

Jane Austen assuredly never saw a penguin: According to the Zoological Society of London, it wasn’t until 1865, nearly fifty years after Austen’s death, that a British zoo first displayed one of the adorable aquatic birdies.

But that hasn’t prevented Penny Ives, a British children’s book author and illustrator, from creating a rather silly, but also rather charming, series of six watercolors featuring Jane Austen and a penguin named Darcy. Ives retails the images as greeting cards (£3, or about $4, apiece) or as prints (ranging from £50-75, or roughly $67-100).

In Ives’ paintings, each of which is accompanied by a short narrative, the two companions dance and stroll together through Regency Bath, Austen in a variety of pink outfits and Darcy in his signature formalwear. The modern world intrudes at least once: in a drawing-room scene, Austen holds a cell phone -- on which, according to the commentary, she is tweeting her rage at Crosby & Co., the firm that refused to return the unpublished manuscript of Northanger Abbey.

“Living in Bath, it is difficult not to bump into Jane Austen from time to time,” explains Ives, the author of a 2014 children’s book about a small duck who meets a flock of baby penguins. “I enjoyed the incongruity of placing the penguin at Jane Austen’s side as both friend and muse.”

It doesn’t make a lot of sense – or, at least, no more than naming a penguin Knightley – but these days, not much does. At least this nonsensical juxtaposition made me smile.


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