An Exquisite Possession
Effusions of Fancy
By Jane Odiwe.
PaintBox Publishing, 2003. 30 pages.
Color illustrations. £9.99
(available online from austeneffusions.co.uk)
Reviewed by Diana Birchall.
an exquisite possession a good picture of her would be! I would give
any money for it.”
We do not all have the same opinions of works of art, as can be seen by
the reactions of Emma’s friends to the picture she painted of Harriet.
Mr. Elton sighed out his compliments and found a likeness almost before
it was possible, while Mr. Knightley only commented, “You have made her
too tall, Emma.” Similarly, opinions may be divided on the subject of
Jane Odiwe’s picture book. Some members of my reading group, polled,
thought it exquisite, while others suspected it of being sentimental.
After poring over the work, I plump down on the side of the
With lapidary minuteness, Odiwe has taken scenes from Jane Austen’s
life and fashioned them into a set of pictures. The care and love she
has lavished on these jewel-like watercolors is highly evident and
succeeds in shedding new light on their subjects. The book is of rather
Elizabeth Bennet-like size, that is, lightly built, like a children’s
book; the simplicity and naïveté about the pictures
give them freshness and charm. The palette of colors is especially
pleasing: a painting of Jane dancing with Tom Lefroy at an Ashe ball
has a ravishingly starry night sky of lapis lazuli blue. And a
Christmas scene at Steventon, with Jane and Cassandra walking in the
snow in vivid green and red costumes, creates the same vivid vibration
of color. Several of these scenes have been made into attractive cards,
and are available in that form. A lovely drawing of Steventon Rectory
in winter can hardly be surpassed for suitability as a Christmas card.
Effusions of Fancy is not
solely a picture show, but a story that Odiwe has created with the
engaging combination of judgment and simplicity she shows in her art.
The text consists of letters written as if from Cassandra, providing
glimpses of the sisters’ lives. Odiwe does not make the mistake of
attempting too much; the text is subordinate to the illustrations, yet
it serves to connect and animate them—in short, text and pictures work
together harmoniously. Lewis Carroll’s Alice said, “What use is a book
without pictures or conversations?” and this book is rich in both.
In her introduction, Odiwe tells us that she felt a need to picture
scenes from Jane’s life for herself and that her sketches were inspired
by contemporary paintings and silhouettes. In one family scene, the
Austen family, distinctly recognizable, is grouped around a table.
There is an 18th-Century stiffness to the figures—no slouching or
lounging as there might be today—yet the picture conveys the Austen
family’s characteristic qualities of alertness and good humor. Another
charming picture shows the family grouped around Mrs. Austen’s bed when
Jane is a baby; Mr. Austen is seated wearing a powdered wig and a
pleased expression. We can feel the artist’s enjoyment in imagining the
“One thing I do not quite like,” as Mr. Woodhouse said about the image
of Harriet sitting out of doors under a tree, is the “proportions,
fore-shortening” (as Mr. Elton cried) of the pictures of Jane and
Cassandra as children. These echo the Rice portrait to some extent, and
tend to give the girls a slightly midgety look. In another vein, Odiwe
has bravely attempted to come as close as she can to an image of what
Jane “really” looked like. Using the two famous watercolors by
Cassandra as inspiration, she clarifies the faint and unsatisfying
portrait in a way that is both pretty and plausible without being a
forensic reconstruction. And Odiwe also wittily shows us the picture of
Jane sitting with her back to us—but with the face turned in our
Other gems include Mr. Collins doing a full scrape before a thoroughly
nasty-looking Lady Catherine and several full-scale ballroom scenes.
These astutely combine old-fashioned images with a modern viewpoint,
imbuing the scenes with a fresh “you are there” reality. In a Pump Room
picture, Jane, very fashionably dressed, situated at the edge of the
pageant, turns to us and draws us into the scene. And another picture,
showing Jane in Bath, gives us a strong sense of what it must have been
like to walk on the streets of that city in 1799. She is not posed but
walking hurriedly, as on an errand, and it brings to mind scenes in Persuasion as well as in her own
This is a very pretty book, but it is more; it provides food for
thought as the author/artist shares her creative reconstructive vision
of how Jane Austen, her family, and her world may have appeared. It’s
worth more than the merely casual glance many a picture book is
accorded; a study of the miniaturist-like, enameled details is
rewarding and refreshing.
is a story analyst at Warner Bros. Studios. She is the author of the
Jane Austen sequels Mrs.
Darcy’s Dilemma, In
Defense of Mrs. Elton, and Mrs.
Elton in America, as well as Onoto
a biography of her grandmother, the first Asian American novelist
(University of Illinois Press, 2001).
v.20, no. 3, Winter 2004, p. 19
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