For those who have not had the pleasure of reading this charming book which tells us a lot about Jane Austen's family.
I remember having a Silhouette of my profile created at a fair when I was a teenager, but not rendered with such exquisite skill.
Shadow portraits were cut in Europe as early as 600 B.C. By the 1750s, the art of silhouettes had become a frequent pastime in England, especially among aristocrats. Silhouette posing and cutting were soon popular in fashionable drawing rooms.
The fourth daughter of King George III, Princess Elizabeth, was an avid amateur artist who cut and painted silhouettes of the Royal Family. As this passion for silhouettes grew and the price of scissors decreased by the 1820s, amateur silhouette artists came from many more walks of life.
The popular silhouette of Jane Austen known as “L’aimable Jane,” is a hollow-cut silhouette made in that way – by tracing the profile on white paper, cutting out the profile, and placing this hollow image on paper. However, a defter handler of scissors and better artist could cut silhouettes without tracing shadows. James Edward Austen-Leigh was such an artist.
James was the only son of Jane Austen’s eldest brother, James. Edward, as he was called, demonstrated artistic talent when a boy. He cut and painted packs of hounds with hunters, foxes, and hares, first outlined on drawing paper, then painted with proper colours, and finally cut out. Beautifully executed, no two hounds were alike and each had a name. They were made to stand up and were arranged on a piece of green baize, which provided with fences, made a good hunting field. His daughter, Mary Augusta Austen-Leigh, said of them that their mother wanted the delicate creatures reproduced in metal.
While in his curacy of Newton, James hunted several times a week with their neighbor, Mr. William John Chute of The Vyne, Hampshire. Chute was M.P. for Hampshire (1790-1806) and Master of The Vyne Hunt.
After a throat ailment compelled Edward to remain indoors and take a sabbatical from his clerical life and sporting pastimes, he used his knowledge to write: Recollections of The Early Days Of The Vine Hunt And Of Its Founder William John Chute, Esq., Of The Vine Together with Brief Notices of The adjoining Hunts, by A Sexagenarian. It was filled with details of The Vyne and other hunts that only an avid hunter and sportsman would know.
Here are some of Edward’s superb work illustrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion.
Darcy had never been so bewitched by a woman as he was by her.
But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, “No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly group’d, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth.”
Pride and Prejudice, Volume I, Chapter 10.
Marianne Dashwood is beginning to plan again, to the delight of her sister Elinor:
MARIANNE: “When the weather is settled, and I have recovered my strength,” said she, “we will take long walks together every day…. We will often go to the old ruins of the Priory, and try to trace its foundations as far as we are told they once reached.”
Sense and Sensibility, Volume III, Chapter 10.
Elizabeth has the unexpected happiness of an invitation from her aunt and uncle Gardiner to join them on a tour of pleasure.
ELIZABETH BENNET: “My dear, dear aunt,” she rapturously cried, “what delight! What felicity!...What are men to rocks and mountains? Oh! What hours of transport we shall spend!”
Pride and Prejudice, Volume II, Chapter 4.
Anne Elliot is visiting her sister Mary at Uppercross.
MARY MUSGROVE: Charles is out shooting. I have not seen him since seven o’clock. He would go…. He said he should not stay out long; but he has never come back.
Anne could believe…that a woman of real understanding might have given more consequence to his character, and more usefulness, rationality, and elegance to his habit and pursuits. As it was, he did nothing with much zeal, but sport.
Persuasion, Volume I, Chapters 5 & 6
Marianne Dashwood, out for a walk with her sister Margaret, falls and sprains her ankle.
A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing around him, was passing up the hill, and within a few yards of Marianne, when her accident happened. He put down his gun and ran to her assistance.
Sense and Sensibility, Volume I, Chapter 9.
James Edward Austen-Leigh made these exquisite silhouettes in the mid-1830s for the amusement of his children. Decades later in 1869, when Vicar of Bray, James wrote A Memoir of Jane Austen where he lovingly recollects family gatherings enlivened by Jane’s ready wit.
“More than half a century has passed away since I, the youngest of the mourners, attended the funeral of my dear aunt Jane in Winchester Cathedral; and now, in my old age, I am asked whether my memory will serve to rescue from oblivion any events of her life or any traits of her character to satisfy the enquiries of a generation of readers who have been born since she died. Of events her life was singularly barren: few changes and no great crisis ever broke the smooth current of its course. Even her fame may be said to have been posthumous: it did not attain to any vigorous life till she had ceased to exist. Her talents did not introduce her to the notice of other writers, or connect her with the literary world, or in any degree pierce through the obscurity of her domestic retirement. I have therefore scarcely any materials for a detailed life of my aunt; but I have a distinct recollection of her person and character; and perhaps many may take an interest in a delineation, if any such can be drawn, of that prolific mind whence sprung the Dashwoods and Bennets, the Bertrams and Woodhouses, the Thorpes and Musgroves, who have been admitted as familiar guests to the firesides of so many families, and are known there as individually and intimately as if they were living neighbours. Many may care to know whether the moral rectitude, the correct taste, and the warm affections with which she invested her ideal characters, were really existing in the native source whence those ideas flowed, and were actually exhibited by her in the various relations of life. I can indeed bear witness that there was scarcely a charm in her most delightful characters that was not a true reflection of her own sweet temper and loving heart.”
Afterword by Joan Austen-Leigh, acclaimed playwright and novelist and co-founder of the Jane Austen Society of North America. “So wrote my great grandfather. Little did he suspect that his words would come down to posterity-that in a hundred years’ time not only would Jane Austen’s novel’s still be being read, but also his own living, gracious, evocative Memoir.”
Source: Life in the Country with Quotations by Jane Austen. Silhouettes by her Nephew JAMES EDWARD AUSTEN-LEIGH. Published 2005 by A Room on One’s Own Press
Maggi Andersen writes historical romance novels set in the Regency Period. Her latest work is the first in the Spies of Mayfair Series, A BARON IN HER BED.