Effusions of Fancy
Consisting of Annotated Sketches from the Life of Jane Austen in a Style Entirely New
by Jane Odiwe
I have lost a treasure, such a sister, such a friend as never can have been surpassed. She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow, I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.
These words, penned by Cassandra Austen on the death of her sister, attest to the great affection that she held for Jane, and yet, who was this woman? We know so little of her. While scholars are content to unravel the mysteries of Jane's life and loves, her dearest companion remains somewhat of a mystery. Most of Jane's letters that survive today were written to this sister and it is clear that they shared a perspicacity and wit far beyond that of other women of the time. While we may accuse Cassandra of destroying what may have been the most interesting of these missives, we must also thank her for preserving the ones that survive.
But where survive Cassandra's letters? Who but Jane held her correspondence so dear? In her recent book, Jane Odiwe attempts to answer some of the lingering questions we might have, by filling in some of these gaps with letters written, as if by Cassandra, in response to known letters of Jane's. Added to this are sumptuous watercolors depicting daily life for the Austen girls from their early childhood through Jane's residence in Bath.
Of her book, the author writes,
Effusions of Fancy came about as a result of my frustration at the lack of images of Jane Austen and in January 2001 I started to research and draw for the book. As an artist, Cassandra's little sketch, now housed in the National Portrait Gallery, fascinated me. For those of you who have not seen the real thing, it really is a very beautiful little drawing and sadly does not seem to reproduce well in books etc. In reality, it is a very delicate watercolour painting, executed in pale washes with very fine detail. Cassandra, the novelist's sister, who painted it must have had wonderful eyesight and a very steady hand! The reproductions we see in books are often over large and heavily printed and have, I believe, contributed to the myth that Jane was a cross looking spinster who lived a quiet life in a rectory. I wondered if by examining Cassandra's sketch and by studying the faces, portraits and silhouettes of other family members I could find the Jane I could see in my head, the personality that leaps from the pages of her novels and letters, the pretty girl who laughed at life and loved to dance.
While Jane Austen excelled in writing, Cassandra was the artist of the family. While we may thank her for the only authenticated portraits of Jane as well as other family members, there is, to the true devotee, always a desire for more. With this in mind, Jane Odiwe has expanded this collection with paintings of the Austen Family, a "younger" portrait of Jane, and what is perhaps her most excellent work, a completion of the "Jane in a Blue Dress" sketch done by Cassandra, in which Jane turns her head to the painter, finally allowing us to see her face. She rounds out the collection with a love letter to Jane from her mysterious Sidmouth admirer. At last we have the opportunity to see, at least for a moment, the happiness she wished for all her heroines, visited on Jane. Everywhere full of facts, details and minutiae from the Austen's lives, this book is sure to be treasured, along side of Austen's own novels and letters. Nowhere is liberty taken too greatly to be believable. We are not presented with more that is already known and verified. Instead, we see a more complete picture of this sister who was more than all to Jane and are given a delightful hour's read, which is, like its subject's own, "Light, Bright, and Sparkling."