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A new way of picturing Jane Austen

A stretch of the imagination is needed when picturing Jane Austen.

That’s because there are few known reliable portraits of the famed novelist, whose likeness and celebrity are the subject of a recent discovery made by Devoney Looser, ASU Foundation Professor of English, author of “The Making of Jane Austen” and editor of "The Daily Jane Austen."

Looser has unearthed the earliest known piece of Jane Austen fan fiction, a previously unrecorded and virtually unknown pen portrait of Austen from an 1823 issue of The Lady’s Magazine.

The discovery was made possible by a series of advanced keyword searches via a trial subscription of Eighteenth Century Journals provided by the ASU Library.

Looser describes the unknown pen portrait as something of a “lightning bolt,” undoing prior knowledge of Austen’s fame and confirming that the author had a fan following nearly a century earlier than previously thought.

“We used to believe that Austen was obscure in the 1820s, in the early years after she died in 1817,” said Looser, who is a Guggenheim Fellow and National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar. “This alone proves that that commonly held belief is a mistaken one. It tells us that people cared about what she looked like and that she was gaining fame in the 1820s.”

Subscription databases like Eighteenth Century Journals are changing what kinds of discoveries are possible for those students and scholars fortunate enough to have access to them.

Read the full story on ASU Now.