It would be hard to draw a picture of one of Austen’s characters based on the books: the narrators offer little physical description at all (‘plain’, ‘tall’) and the other characters don’t go much further than ‘fair’ and ‘dark-eyed’ (how-much-a-year is far more significant). But Austen does tell us a lot about the way the valuation of appearance betrays prejudices. Bingley’s ardency is evident from his first sight of Jane – ‘Oh! she is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!’ – and Elizabeth is as firm in her loyalty: ‘You were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room.' Darcy considers Elizabeth ‘barely tolerable’ to begin with, but by the end declares her ‘one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance’.
I wonder if the Bank of England knew what they were letting themselves in for when they agreed to put Jane Austen on the £10 note. Janeites have been arguing over the authenticity of portraits for decades. The most settled on is the watercolour sketch held by the National Portrait Gallery and attributed to Austen’s sister, Cassandra. It was offered to James Edward Austen-Leigh (their nephew) by one of their great-nieces for inclusion in his 1869 Memoir.
It's been almost disabling, this nothing interesting happening. The world having become entirely uneventful, no worries, no problems, nothing to engage the mind and heart. It's a dull time to be alive, but at last there's a break in the complete dearth of matters to care about. Jane Austen might have died of arsenic poisoning. And since she might have died of arsenic poisoning, she might have been murdered. If only the tedious old Janeites couldn't be relied on to get their knickers in a twist, we could disinter her bones and put them to the test. Now are you excited?