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The Real Jane Austen?

on December 14, 2011 – 9:49 am

This month, BBC Two follows British academic, Dr. Paula Byrne as she unveils a portrait that may be one of the only remaining images of Jane Austen. In a one-off special, Martha Kearney joins the search to find out whether an unusual drawn portrait really does capture the face of the well-loved author.

Will the picture stand up to forensic analysis and scrutiny by art historians and Austen experts? And if it does, how might it change our perception of one of Britain’s most revered writers? Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? (9pm, Mon 26 Dec, BBC Two) follows the investigation behind one of the literary world’s most exciting art works.

Jane Austen is one of the most celebrated writers of all time but with only a rough sketch by her sister we have just an inkling of what she may have looked like. Austen academic and biographer Dr. Paula Byrne thinks that this may be about to change. She believes that she’s discovered a portrait of the author that has been lost for nearly two centuries and may offer fascinating new insight into how Jane once lived and portrayed herself to the world.

Dr. Paula Byrne: “If this really is an authentic portrait of Jane Austen, it has the potential to change our image of her forever. Instead of the prim spinster of Cassandra’s unfinished sketch here is a professional writer at the height of her powers.” (Follow Dr. Byrne on Twitter for latest news)

Janice Hadlow, Controller, BBC Two, says: “Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? will sit at the heart of our Christmas schedule and will be a fascinating chance for the BBC Two audience to delve deeper into the life of one of Britain’s best-loved authors.

Martha follows Paula’s search to gather as much evidence as possible in her quest to prove that she really may hold one of the rarest literary portraits of all-time. From eighteenth century costume experts to the editor of Jane Austen’s letters, Paula must interrogate as many experts as possible to build a case for why this really might be Jane. After months of research, she presents the portrait to three of the world’s most prominent Austen experts. Will she be able to convince them that it really is as authentic as it seems?

Jane Austen: The Unseen Portrait? airs at 9pm, Monday 26th December, BBC Two and is one of two films commissioned by the BBC Arts department to celebrate the life and work of one of our greatest authors this Christmas.