Jane Austen fans can be an obsessive bunch, with the most worshipful self-identifying as “Janeites:” they hold Austen-themed tea parties and balls in elaborate period costumes, organize conventions, and write fan fiction. So it’s almost scary to think how these superfans will react to seeing their idol newly resurrected in wax.
Revealed at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England, the wax sculpture of the Pride and Prejudice author is being described by the BBC as the “closest anyone has come to the real Jane Austen for 200 years.”
To create the bonnet-clad effigy, a team that included Emmy award-winning costume designer Andrea Galer and FBI-trained forensic artist Melissa Dring spent three years working from the only known portrait of Austen, sketched by her sister, Cassandra, in 1810, and from eyewitness accounts.
Cassandra’s portrait was criticized by Austen’s niece as “hideously unlike” her aunt, and Dring told the BBC that it makes Austen look “sour and dour,” like she’s “sucking lemons,” so the wax sculptors aimed for a more accurate and flattering rendition of the English novelist.
In his memoir, Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, described his aunt as “very attractive.” “Her whole appearance [was] 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,” he wrote.
With finishing touches added by ex-Madame Tussaud’s hair and color artist Nell Clarke, the waxwork may get Austen’s likeness down, but she looks more embalmed than healthy and animated. And as in all wax portraits, there’s an element of the uncanny. Let’s just hope the Janeites don’t get any ideas for turning Austen into a RealDoll.