Book People | July 2022 | Nate Pedersen

What Did Jane Austen Look like?

She's one of the world's most beloved novelists, but we still don't really know what she looked like. 

The only confirmed portrait of Jane Austen is a dour - and amateur - drawing by her sister.  Other potential portraits have occasionally surfaced, but remain controversial.
So perhaps it was inevitable that someone would eventually call in the forensic team.  The Jane Austen Centre in Bath unveiled on Wednesday this week a new Jane Austen waxwork, the result of three years of work by forensic artist Melissa Dring.
It's an impressive piece, and one that captures something of the joie de vivre of the novelist, which was often commented on by those who knew her.  The waxwork also restores Austen's pretty face - entirely lost in the surviving portrait - but again commented on by her contemporaries.  
"Her figure was rather tall and slender, her step light and firm, and her whole appearance expressive of health and animation. In complexion she was a clear brunette with a rich colour; she had full round cheeks, with mouth and nose small and well-formed, bright hazel eyes, and brown hair forming natural curls close round her face," wrote Austen's nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh.  His sister added, "as to my Aunt's personal appearance, hers was the first face that I can remember thinking pretty..."
Dring, the forensic artist, used accounts like these to build her model of Austen, expanding from the portrait drawn by Austen's sister.  The end result is the closest we've yet come to seeing the author of Pride and Prejudice in person.
[Image from the Jane Austen Centre]