Jane Austen is one of English literature’s most popular classic authors, among both scholars and general readers. And yet, nearly 200 years after her death, we’re still struggling to put a face to her name. The only two authenticated Austen portraits are this drawing, by her sister Cassandra, and a painting based on that image from 1870, over 50 years after the writer’s death in 1817. So it’s big news indeed that Austen biographer Dr. Paula Byrne may have stumbled upon another portrait of her subject.
As the Guardian reports, Byrne’s husband bought the graphite drawing — thought to be an “imaginary portrait,” with the words “Miss Jane Austin” scrawled on the back — at auction. But the picture dates to 1815, decades before Austen achieved posthumous fame, raising the question of why anyone would have made an imaginary drawing an unknown author. Two of the world’s top three Austen scholars believe the portrait is real, and Byrne hopes that the new image will change the way the world sees the writer, presenting “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.” Read more about the portrait and see a larger version of it at the Guardian.