Is This Comely Lady the Real Jane Austen?

There is only one accepted portrait of Jane Austen, sketched by her sister in 1810, in which the author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice looks to be extremely pissed off. But Austen scholar Dr. Paula Byrne, who is working on a definitive biography due out some time in 2013, has discovered a portrait in auction, and thinks there is an excellent possibility that the woman in it daintily holding a quill and staring out a window pensively — which, coincidently, is precisely how I look at this exact moment — could be Austen herself.

Consider the evidence: The portrait drawing, graphite on vellum, was held privately for generations, and recently came up on the auction block billed as an "imaginary portrait" of Jane Austen. On the back, it's written, "Miss Jane Austin." The woman bore what Byrne immediately recognized to be "the Austen Family nose," and was dated to around 1815, years before the writer became famous. Why, then, would someone draw an imaginary portrait — a style which does not even exist! — of an anonymous woman?

Is This Comely Lady the Real Jane Austen?

Byrne thinks it is she, and what's more, it paints an entirely different image of Austen as a disgruntled crone who threw rocks at Turtledoves just to watch them bleed:

"It presents her as a professional woman writer; there are pens on the table, a sheaf of paper. She seems to be a woman very confident in her own skin, very happy to be presented as a professional woman writer and a novelist, which does fly in the face of the cutesy, heritage spinster view."

Why, it does fly in the face of the cutesy, spinster view! Begone, cutesy, spinster view! Think instead of Miss Austen as a rational creature, speaking only the truth from her heart. *Curtsey* [The Guardian, Image Courtesy Dr Paula Byrne]