This year marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. While a slew of celebrations are lined up across the pond, at the University of Texas, Austin, the English department decided to commemorate the event by creating a portal into Jane Austen’s world. The resulting website, ‘What Jane Saw’ is an online recreation of an 1813 exhibit that Austen attended, letting viewers see artwork as Jane may have seen it.
The recreated exhibit is of a retrospective of famed portraitist Joshua Reynolds. The show was the first of its kind, a gallery exhibit dedicated to a single artist, and was considered the show of the season with up to 800 visitors a day. Reynolds’ subjects ranged from King George III to actress Sara Siddens and other ‘abnormally interesting’ people – in other words it was a display of the celebrities of the day. Associate professor at UT and leader of the project, Janine Barchas explained to the New York Times that displays such as these would have influenced Austen’s work, where subtle nods to celebrities can be found – hence the importance of the reconstruction.
Austen went to visit the gallery a couple months after the publication of her well-loved novel and in a letter to her sister, she joked she went in search of Mrs. Darcy at the gallery:
[there is] no chance of her in the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Paintings which is now shewing in Pall Mall…[but] I dare say Mrs D. will be in Yellow.
The web portal gives Austenites an ability to see exactly what Jane Austen would’ve see, albeit in a virtual setting. Using an 1813 catalog of the exhibit, the team were able to accurately place each portrait as they were hung at the time.
Barchas hopes to create a more immersive 3D experience in the future, such as a game with 3D goggles perhaps, but for now she claims that ‘What Jane Saw’ is ‘the closest thing to time travel on the Web.’