Jane Austen Statue Controversy Continues

Steve Russell Studios/Winchester City Council

Proposed statue of Jane Austen

The Dean of Winchester Cathedral has responded to criticism of plans to erect a bronze statue of Jane Austen in the building's Inner Close.

Plans for the £100,000 statue to commemorate the author's 250th birthday next year have received a mixed reception in the city, with some suggesting it represents a 'Disneyfication' of the cathedral while others applaud the celebration of the local literary star. The statue would be one of only around three per cent in the UK that are of non-royal women including a recent one of Virginia Woolf. Plans for a statue of the playwright Aphra Behn in Canterbury are ongoing.

Now, in a letter to the local newspaper the Hampshire Chronicle, The Very Reverend Catherine Ogle, dean of Winchester Cathedral has defended plans for the life-sized 5ft 7in statue of Austen who died in the city in 1817, saying it would be a fitting tribute to the writer who lived locally.

“The proposed location of the statue in the Inner Close is close to the route she would have taken when visiting her nephews at the nearby Winchester College and her friends at No 12 The Close,” she wrote. “This route also became her final journey from her College Street lodgings adjacent to Winchester College, the funeral procession to her place of rest in the Cathedral. The Cathedral has hoped to give Jane Austen a fitting tribute as a sculpture for some years.”

The commission has been awarded to leading sculptor Martin Jennings whose previous literary works include the statues of former Poet Laureate John Betjeman at St Pancras railway station in London, poet Philip Larkin in Hull, and George Orwell at BBC Broadcasting House in London . It will show Austen in her characteristic ringlets and cap, standing by her writing table. Jennings says he has represented her rising from her table at Chawton as someone arrives at the door, moving in front of her work as if to disguise it. "It is important for me that she should be accompanied by the tools of her trade, so that she is indissolubly associated with her working life," he said.

Austen is buried in the north nave aisle of Winchester Cathedral and has a memorial gravestone at the cathedral. Two other statues of her in Hampshire have been erected in recent years at Basingstoke, near her birthplace in Steventon, and her home in Chawton.

Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with the Pearl Earring, said: "I love the idea of Jane Austen being honoured with a statue by Winchester Cathedral, her final resting place. Martin Jennings has captured her spirit in a delightfully fresh way, standing next to her iconic writing table, her form both graceful and moving."