The New Yorker recently posted an interesting article on readers' desire to know what their favorite authors looked like, particularly the mysterious face of the supremely popular Jane Austen.
A Guardian article reported on new evidence supporting the claim that the painting below is of Austen at age 13, including the discovery of the name "Jane Austen" in the top-right corner of the painting, found in an image of the painting taken before the the canvas was restored.
Whether or not the painting is of the author, the question is why we're so curious about what our favorite authors looked like. The New Yorker suggests, in respect to Jane, that "she is one that we would like to visualize accurately, in the half-belief that if we could just get a good look at her, we would be able to see something more of her world."
Maybe. But we suspect there's something more, something opposite at play. At Novel-T, we create jerseys that let us imagine ourselves--in a way--as our favorite authors and characters. As this video from the Ernest Hemingway Look-Alike Society's Annual Papa Look-Alike Contest shows, people love identifying with their literary heroes. While reading their books is one way to do it, picturing them as actual human beings with faces and expressions helps bring them closer to our world. A portrait simply cannot tell us that much about another person--but it's not about information. Like a soldier looking a picture of his/her spouse, it's about strengthening an emotional connection. Twain's moustache and cigar, Thoreau's neck-beard and otherworldly gaze, they humanize writers from ethereal pen-holders to uncles with odd senses of humor.
Oddly enough, for as much as great writing creates a deeply human kinship between author and reader, readers still seek visual evidence of the writers. Then again, writers like to meet their readers. No wonder that so many dead writers have Facebook pages!