Jane Goes Postal: Part Three

Image of British Mint Stamps Jane Austen Cover (1975)




Part three 



Barbara Brown’s challenge in creating artwork of Jane Austen’s characters was a daunting but not unique task. How could one honestly represent such beloved characters whose persona’s have been so wholly impressed in the imagination of her readers for over 160 years? It had been achieved to some degree of success by her predecessors C.E. Brock, Hugh Thomson and Joan Hassall in their widely published book illustrations. How could she present them in an honourable and interesting manner to spark imagination and evoke memory?

Their success or failure would lie in the artist’s intimate knowledge of Jane Austen’s work, and with the honesty that she chose to represent it. This dictum can be applied today to any artist, writer or movie producer who endeavours to present Jane Austen in any medium. Honesty and respect is everything in life, and in art. So when Barbara Brown gave a retrospective description of her designs in the British Philatelic Bulletin  of October 1975, we see her perception and sensitivity on this subject, and are sanguine.

From the four novels which seemed to me the most widely read … I selected six characters whom I thought I could most successfully define and comment on within a limited area. I selected no characters with whom I could not sympathise…

Sympathy is everything indeed! Jane Austen oozes unceremonious sympathy.

Emma Woodhouse, the reigning queen of her busy humdrum court, typifies a quality of life that the restless stylish Crawfords would probably reject.

It is obivous here that Miss Brown is well aquainted with Jane Austen’s characters and their motivations. Well done! 

 These designs showing paired, as opposed to single figures, seemed to me particularly important because I wished them to suggest the strongly conversational style of the novels.

Jane Austen’s narrative conversational style is the foundation of her success, so Miss Brown was on good footing here. 

As for Mr Woodhouse, I selected him in preference to any other character who would equally well have partnered Emma, partly because it seemed to me essential to include one of Jane Austen’s brilliant characterisations of those in their middle or later years, and partly because Mr Woodhouse seems to me an unjustly despised gentleman.

Ok, to lift a line from the movie Jerry Maguire (1996), you had me at Mr. Woodhouse. 

 The dissimilarity between the sedentary parent and the scheming daughter provides another contrast with the intimate, accomplice-like relationship between Henry Crawford and his sister Mary…

Her choice of Mary and Henry Crawford is puzzling and at odds with her previous mention of only choosing characters that she could sympathise with. Personally, I have trouble relating to these two spoiled schemers, who Jane Austen moralized into ‘just deserts’ by the end of Mansfield Park.

 Mr Darcy, aloof and distant, had to stand alone epitomising the title of the novel whose hero he is clearly destined to be; while Catherine Morland, very human and silly, is at least for the time content to wander alone through an illusive world of Gothic fantasy.

Ahhh … too true. Darcy alone, in his regal glory, and adventurous Catherine striking out on her own. Perfect. No complaints here. We are only saddened that there could only be four designs.

Please join us tomorrow for part four of the story of Jane Goes Postal: The Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemorative Stamps, as Barbara Brown’s final illustrations are revealed and approved by the Stamp Advisory Commission.

Source: Special Stamp History 105, Birth Bicentenary of Jane Austen, 22 October, 1975, by Giles Allen, 9 January 1997, The British Postal Museum & Archive, London

*Image of Jane Austen Bicentenary Commemorative First Day Presentation Pack, designed by Jeffery Matthews, 22 October 1975     

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