Monday 5th March 2018 to Wednesday 21st March 2018
Venue: Chawton House Library
Pens, Paintbrushes & Pioneers: Portrait of a Woman Writer
‘She had amused her solitary hours by drawing, in chalks, a portrait of features indelibly engraven on her recollection.’
– Mary Brunton, Self Control (1811)
The pages of Chawton House Library’s 10,000 works by women are full of memorable pen portraits of their female characters. Frances Burney’s Evelina admires her newly-‘frizzled’ hair as she prepares for a fashionable evening’s entertainment in London. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet traipses across a field, getting her petticoats dirty, whilst Mary Crawford sits posed, near a window, with a harp as elegant as herself. Mary Shelley’s spectral Caroline Frankenstein appears to her deranged son, grave worms crawling in the folds of her shroud. Maria Edgeworth’s Harriet Freke rests her bold, masculine arms on a coach door and laughs loudly.
But Chawton House itself is also home to a number of painted portraits of women, including examples by famed artists George Romney, Joshua Reynolds, and Francis Cotes. Charlotte Gunning, Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, the Knight family women (including Austen’s niece Fanny), and Frances Burney’s fainting heroine Camilla all reside in the ‘great house’, side by side with a number of prominent eighteenth-century women writers.
This exhibition draws together portraits held in Chawton House Library – paintings, frontispieces, and written pictures – creating its own composite portraits of four influential and pioneering women writers: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Maria Graham, Mary Robinson, and Jane Austen.