Even if you are a hardcore Janeite, it’s likely difficult for you to separate your imaginative experience of Austen’s novels from the various film and television adaptations that have sprouted up in the last 20 years. Darcy just has to look like Colin Firth, right? And it’s hard to imagine a Marianne Dashwood who doesn’t have Kate Winslet’s dreamy silliness. But obviously, for most of the books’ lives, people didn’t have those images in mind. And caught in a cache of images newly released to the public domain by the British Library are a number of illustrations from 19th-century editions of Austen’s works that give us a glimpse of how artists once pictured those favorite scenes untouched by the graces of say, Gwyneth Paltrow.
I’ll start with my favorites, from Mansfield Park: