The curious case of the disappearing portrait


By Jane’s Actual Avatar
You’ve probably seen this button at various Austen conferences, book signings and, of course, the 2012 JASNA AGM, but probably not recently. Now that Jane Austen’s return to fame and publishing is firmly established, there’s no longer any need for it, but I still I see it a lot when I’m on tour with Jane and I’m often asked if I have any to give out. I usually tell the person to meet me quietly in a dark alley and give them a button.

The secrecy is because Jane’s agent, Melody Kramer, disapproves of this button with a passion, and I guess she has her reasons. You see it’s not the button that was painstakingly developed by Random House for the Sanditon book tour. That button showed the very lovely portrait of Jane digitally created by Barb Jenkins. You’ve probably seen that portrait on the inside cover of Sanditon and it was in Time magazine and it now shows up in documentaries about Jane. That’s my image of Jane.

But I guess that although it may be the official portrait of Jane, it’s not the one you, her fans, love best. Instead it’s this grumpy sketch by Jane’s sister Cassandra, which almost everyone rubbished before, but that now appears on the unofficial I Believe in Jane button. That’s right, it’s not the official I Believe in Jane button but instead one that was created as a giveaway by the New York Metropolitan region of the Jane Austen Society for the 2012 AGM. If you went to the 2011 AGM, it was in your goodie bag as an enticement to attend the NYC AGM.

Random House tried to get the NYC region to use the official button and … well I don’t want to go into details, but there were some bruised feelings and Random House had to backtrack. So this unofficial button with old grumpy Jane won the day. Melody took it kind of personally because of all the difficulties  we went through to commission the official, much lovelier portrait.

By the way, I was pretty much in the camp that thought Cassandra’s sketch was awful, until I saw the real thing at the National Portrait Gallery in London. See the free-standing display case to the right of the doorway? Jane’s portrait is inside; you can just barely see it.

Anyway, it’s really quite a precious thing to see, this little sketch surrounded by the portraits of men considered more famous than Jane at the time. I teared up.

So if you see me representing Jane at the 2013 AGM in Minneapolis, feel free to ask me for a button … as long as Melody is not around.


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