“first impressions.” jane austen’s pride & prejudice.

so i read austen in high school, of course.  and every time i return to her novels, i have forgotten how funny (read:  witty & sarcastic) they are.  how unique and complete each character in these complex, relationship-driven plots.  and how ahead of societal norm jane’s austen’s own ideals were.  i love the movie adaptations.  i live for the sweeping soundtracks.  i like funny tv spin-offs (“lost in austen”) and adaptations (“austenland,” by shannon hale).  and of course, who has not been charmed into re-reading pride & prejudice by kathleen kelly & joe fox’s email romance in “you’ve got mail?”

my original intentions for this painting were a lot more complicated.  but as i delved further into the book, and the annotated edition, it became less about the men and their estates, and more about the sisters.  so the image became simplified so we can step into their world and dance and observe and letter-write alongside them.

the sisters– all fighting:  for a husband to escape impending poverty, for a handsome husband because what else is the point of flirting, for accomplishments & attention, or fighting against a society that demanded they must sometimes settle without affection.  (or, heavens forbid, to break the stigma that an unmarried woman over 23 is already a spinster.)

so i scrapped the sketches of estates and the shadows of the men that pursued (or engaged) them, and left this piece about our “first impressions” (jane austen’s original working title for this novel she started at age 20 and published as “pride & prejudice,” by a lady, at age 37) of the five bennet sisters.

have a look at the research and painting process photos and then i’ll share a little bit about the bennet gals.  🙂

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not only did i consult my memories of “pride & prejudice” from my high school english marginalia in this copy on the right (boy did i HATE mr. collins!), but i took great pleasure in applying even more cultural context to our story and manners from patricia meyer sparks’ most excellent notes in the annotated edition.
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the annotated edition was a doozy of a coffee table book, and i took to studying at my husband’s studio or at the kitchen table.
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after i’d edited out the great estates of pemberly and otherwise, i went through a few variations of how to best represent each sister’s posture and story in attitude and costume.
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“hunny, take my picture holding a handkerchief.” “hey, would you mind standing like a proud and confident lizzie bennet? okay, thanks.” all in a day’s or few’s reference work and awkward conversation topics.
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after i finalized each sister’s posture, i drew them on my watercolour tablet (the original is 18″ wide and 7.75″ tall) and began to lay in light washes of colours.
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a little detail shot of dancing kitty & eloping lydia in progress.
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once the gals were there, i knew it needed something more. so true to my own character, i added a background pattern.
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i created a slightly haphazard pattern so it wasn’t as stiff and formal as sherlock‘s most recent wallpaper background. a bit more organic. a bit more like a muslin fabric pattern austenites might wear.
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so layering in some greens and blues into the pattern around each sister. (i mix my gouache paints on paper plates so they’re re-usable.)

 

so the gals in our painting:

  • jane.  “miss jane bennet.”  the pretty one.  too reserved (even though she “smiles too much”) for darcy to believe she returned mr. bingley’s affections.  modest.  and sent over to netherfield park when mrs. bennet knew it was going to rain so she’d be stuck there getting to know the new (rich) neighborhood bachelor.  she got a cold.  hence the handkerchief.
  • lizzy.  “miss bennet.”  (also referred to as eliza or elizabeth.)  the second oldest.  the self-assured no-nonsence sister.  she goes (on foot) to visit jane who’s stuck at netherfield recovering, and mr. bingley’s sister is appalled that her dress was 6″ deep in mud after the 3-mile journey.
  • mary.  the middle sister.  the only plain one in the family.  always vying for a chance to show off her (pedantic) reading habits or her (mediocre) singing and piano playing; she just wants some affirmation.
  • kitty (catherine).  in the shadow of lydia, who was the youngest, kitty also lives for the regiment (military men in uniform come to town), officers (even better), and a good ball.
  • lydia.  the youngest.  the most ridiculous.  the biggest flirt.  the first to be married.  even if it was sure to bring wreck & ruin & scandal to her entire family were it not for mr. darcy’s interference in lydia & wicked wickham’s supposed elopement plans.  [ two fun facts:  she was the tallest of the sisters; and she bought what she knew was an ugly bonnet (out of boredom and living outside of her means, a lifelong habit) to dress it up at home.]

my main take away from the guys in this novel?  darcy was an introvert.  i get it.  sure, he had “reason” to be proud, but he was just socially awkward.  and i don’t judge him for that.  but i hadn’t noticed before just how soon he started favoring lizzy.  (“she attracted him more than he liked.”)

mr. bennet?  still hilarious.  witty and sarcastic, and with great affection for lizzy.  also, his greatest desire was to be left alone in his library.  i believe it.  (being an only child myself, five sisters, and a pestering mother who wants nothing more than to see them married would be more than enough for me to retreat to a quiet in-disturbable room of books.)

and miss caroline bingley?  charles’ unmarried sister?  gracious, i hadn’t noticed before how much she was throwing herself at mr. darcy and sure to be full of jealousy and all the greater maliciousness to break up jane and charles to destroy lizzy’s chances of being in darcy’s circle.

oh.  and i drew jane austen’s glasses interweaving into my signature “h.”  because four (five) cheers for jane austen, am i right?

some favorite quotes:  (there’s tons.  here’s a half dozen.)

  • “what do you think of books?” said he, smiling.  (mr. darcy while dancing with elizabeth)
  • “but vanity, not love, has been my folly.”  (lizzy)
  • “i think you are in very great danger of making him as much in love with you as ever.”  (lizzie to jane upon bingley’s return)
  • “i shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be.”  (mr. bennet)
  • “i shall infinitely prefer a book.” (mary when the subject of a ball comes up.  me too, mary.  me, too.)
  • “i am the happiest creature in the world.”  (a letter from lizzy to her aunt & uncle upon her engagement to darcy.)

 

original gouache on watercolour painting available framed for $525.

limited edition signed prints available HERE on my etsy site!

recommended reading:

 

 

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