Travel Back in Time with Jane Austen

The What Jane Saw website boasts a new look and, soon, an eighteenth-century expansion. This experiment in digital humanities, created by Austen scholar Janine Barchas, currently features a virtual tour of the first-ever retrospective exhibition of celebrated portrait painter Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), as seen by Jane Austen in 1813 at the British Institution at 52 Pall Mall, London (1805-1867).

British Institution, Pall Mall, 1808 (1808) Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) Wikimedia Commons

British Institution, Pall Mall, 1808 (1808)
Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
Wikimedia Commons

Barchas and her design team have painstakingly reconstructed the exhibition on the web using the original 1813 “Catalogue of Pictures,” narrative accounts of the show in nineteenth-century newspapers and books, and detailed architectural information about the no-longer-existent exhibit space. Coming soon to the website is another virtual reconstruction: the Shakespeare Gallery, dated 1789 to 1805, which predates the British Institution at 52 Pall Mall. The Gallery, opened by British publisher John Boydell (1720-1804), was the first dedicated to William Shakespeare. Austen viewed the gallery during a 1796 trip to London. Visitors of the What Jane Saw website can explore not only the popular art and celebrity culture of the long eighteenth century but also the influences these exhibitions may have had on Austen’s work. Keep your calendars marked—the Shakespeare Gallery extension opens to the public on Austen’s birthday, December 16.

See also Barchas’s recent article “Reporting on What Jane Saw 2.0: Female Celebrity and Sensationalism in Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery” in ABO 5.1 (2015).

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