Room 3: ‘Queer fashion’: A Controversial Hairstyle

Do you picture Fanny Price with long, flowing hair? This is often how she is portrayed in illustrations and films, but actually she may be the only Austen heroine with short hair. Her brother William describes the ‘trim’ of her hair as a ‘queer fashion’ which he ‘could not believe’ was come to England. He says women must be ‘mad’ to choose such a bold hairstyle but changes his mind when he sees it on Fanny and becomes reconciled to it. From the sound of it, Fanny may have had her hair cut short in a unisex style known as coiffure à la Titus that emerged from revolutionary France.

In including this detail, Jane may have been thinking of her niece Anna who cut off her long hair in 1808 and wore it short. Like William, Jane says she became ‘tolerably reconciled’ to it, although she does admit hoping that ‘two or three years may restore it again.’

Jane Austen tells us very little about her characters’ appearance in her novels, so every detail is important. What do you think Fanny’s cropped hair says about her as a character? Does it make her seem modest and shy, or could it be a statement about androgyny?