Jane Austen (1775-1817) is one of the most famous of all English novelists, and today her novels are more popular than ever, with several recently adapted as Hollywood movies. But we do not have many records of what she looked like. For a long time, the only accepted image of Austen was an amateur sketch of an adult Austen made by her sister Cassandra. However recently a professionally painted, full-length portrait of a teenage girl owned by a member of the Austen family has come up for sale. Although the professional painting is not titled Jane Austen, there are good reasons to believe she is the subject.
First, in 1882, several decades after Austen’s death, Austen’s family gave permission to use the portrait as an illustration in an edition of her letters. Austen’s family clearly recognized it as a portrait of the author. So, for over a century now, the Austen family itself has endorsed the claim that the girl in the portrait is Jane Austen.
Second, the face in the portrait clearly resembles the one in Cassandra’s sketch, which we know depicts Austen. Though somewhat amateurish, the sketch communicates definite details about Austen’s face. Even though the Cassandra sketch is of an adult Jane Austen, the features are still similar to those of the teenage girl in the painting. The eyebrows, nose, mouth, and overall shape of the face are very much like those in the full-length portrait.
Third, although the painting is unsigned and undated, there is evidence that it was painted when Austen was a teenager. The style links it to Ozias Humphrey, a society portrait painter who was the kind of professional the wealthy Austen family would hire. Humphrey was active in the late 1780s and early 1790s, exactly the period when Jane Austen was the age of the girl in the painting.
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The reading and the lecture provide a heated debate surrounding the subject of painting that is believed to be Jane Austen, a famous English novelist. While the reading strongly believes that the subject of this piece of art is undoubtedly Jane Austen, the lecture disagrees with that viewpoint, saying that current discoveries have casted doubt on the reading’s assumption.
First of all, the reading manifests that the portrait was used as an illustration for the publication of Jane Austen’s letter. The permission was granted by her family. Therefore, it intensifies the certainty that Austen’s family must somehow recognize that the portrait actually depicts Jane Austen. However, the lecture casts doubt on this argument, saying that Jane Austen’s letters were published in 1882, when Jane Austen was dead for 70 years. Therefore, the entire of her family were not able to see Jane Austen by themselves. The lecture, therefore, rebuts the argument of the reading.
Second, the reading asserts that there is the analogy between the subject of the portrait with an early depiction of Austen. In fact, there was an amateurish sketch made by her sister. There are several similarities that the sketch shares with the portrait, such as the eyebrows, nose, mouth etc. The lecture, on the other hand, opposes this argument, providing ample evidence that the actual subject of the portrait is a relative of Austen. In fact, Austen’s family at that time had many teenage members that probably resembled Jane Austen. Moreover, the revelation of current discoveries proves that the portrait depicts Marie, a distant niece of Jane Austen. This is another place where the lecture puts the reading under rigorous scrutiny.
Last but not least, the reading indicates that there is evidence that the portrait was painted when Austen was a teenager. In fact, the style of the portrait has a close connection to Ozias Hymphrey. Ozias was a professional portrait painter that could only be hired by wealthy family, such as the affluent Austen’s family. Nevertheless, the lecture challenges this point and cites that at the back of the painting there was a sign indicating who sold the canvas. The man that is believed to sell the canvas did not sell canvas in London until Austen was 27 years old. Therefore, there is no possibility that the portrait was painted when Austen was a teenager. The lecture once again refutes the argument of the reading.
TOEFL listening discussions: A conversation between a professor and a university student in the professor’s office