Winchester plan for £100,000 Jane Austen statue triggers ‘Disneyfication’ fears

<span>Winchester Cathedral's Jane Austen statue to mark the 250th anniversary of the author's birth.</span><span>Photograph: Steve Russell Studios/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent</span>
Winchester Cathedral's Jane Austen statue to mark the 250th anniversary of the author's birth.Photograph: Steve Russell Studios/Solent News & Photo Agency/Solent

The idea was to celebrate one of the greatest British authors with a beautiful statue set up in a cathedral for the 250th anniversary of their birth.

But at a public meeting to discuss the erection of a Jane Austen sculpture close to her final resting place at Winchester Cathedral, concerns were raised that it would lead to the “Disneyfication” of the place of worship and become a magnet for tourists keen to get a selfie.

Elizabeth Proudman, an Austen expert and leading light in the Jane Austen Society, also suggested the author herself would not have approved of the statue and the fuss surrounding it.

She said: “We don’t know what she looked like, but we do know that she was a very private person. She despised publicity.”

Austen is buried in the north nave aisle of Winchester Cathedral under a memorial stone, which mentions “the extraordinary endowments of her mind” but does not provide any more detail about her career.

The Hampshire cathedral says the anniversary “presents a significant opportunity to bring her legacy to even greater prominence” and plans to erect the statue in the Inner Close.

Proudman said: “I don’t think any statue is appropriate for this part of Winchester Cathedral. The Inner Close is where the monks had a private area, it’s a special place.

“I don’t think we want to turn it into Disneyland-on-Itchen [the river that runs through the city]. I don’t think the Inner Close is the place to attract a lot of American tourists to come and have a selfie with Jane Austen.”

The £100,000 statue is being created by the sculptor Martin Jennings, who created the official coin effigy of King Charles.

His Austen statue, which he is still working on, captures her standing next to her writing desk, prompting Lizzie Dunford, the director of Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire, to question why she had not been depicted actually writing.

After unveiling his preliminary model, Jennings said: “This is a work of the imagination as, I must emphasise, every work of art is. We don’t know very much at all about what she looked like. I want the sculpture to express her spirit.

“In life, she may have been aghast at being represented in this way. But after death, she belongs to all of us. I don’t think we have, in any way, invaded her private personality. If she was writing, her head would be bent over and looking down. The figure is more dynamic.”

The Rev Canon Dr Roland Riem, the vice-dean of the cathedral, said: “This isn’t designed by committee. We have to trust the creative process and trust Martin with his creative gifts and experience.”