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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things
     

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

3.0 3
by Paula Byrne
 

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In The Real Jane Austen, acclaimed literary biographer Paula Byrne provides the most intimate and revealing portrait yet of a beloved but complex novelist.

Just as letters and tokens in Jane Austen’s novels often signal key turning points in the narrative, Byrne explores the small things – a scrap of paper, a gold chain, an ivory miniature

Overview

In The Real Jane Austen, acclaimed literary biographer Paula Byrne provides the most intimate and revealing portrait yet of a beloved but complex novelist.

Just as letters and tokens in Jane Austen’s novels often signal key turning points in the narrative, Byrne explores the small things – a scrap of paper, a gold chain, an ivory miniature – that held significance in Austen’s personal and creative life.

Byrne transports us to different worlds, from the East Indies to revolutionary Paris, and to different events, from a high society scandal to a case of petty shoplifting. In this ground-breaking biography,  Austen is set on a wider stage than ever before, revealing a well-traveled and politically aware writer – important aspects of her artistic development that have long been overlooked.

The Real Jane Austen is a fresh, compelling, and surprising biography of the author of some of our most enduring classic books – from Pride and Prejudice to Sense and Sensibility, Emma to Persuasion – and a vivid evocation of the world that shaped her.

Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Magnificent…explodes the old view of Jane Austen. Byrne’s research is wide, deep and meticulous…a more vivid and memorable Jane Austen emerges than a relentlessly ‘straight’ old-fashioned narrative could deliver.”
Literary Omnivore
“In THE REAL JANE AUSTEN, Bryne’s engaging prose and thoughtful, determined analysis of tangible objects from her life give us a picture of Austen as a vivid, vital woman committed to her career as a novelist, clear-eyed and part of the wider world. Well worth a read.”
NPR/All Things Considered
“Biographer Paula Byrne has taken objects from Jane Austen’s real life and times and used them as if we were dropping in on Austen on any given day...a dynamic new biography in which Austen lives and breathes.”
Michael Dirda
“Byrne takes Austen seriously as a writer...[she] brings to life a woman of “wonderful exuberance and self-confidence,” of “firm opinions and strong passions.” Little wonder that every other man she meets seems to fall in love with her.”
Shelf Awareness
“A fresh behind-the-scenes look at an author who, for many, stands behind only Shakespeare as the greatest English writer.”
Simon Callow
“Brilliantly illuminating…riveting…Again and again…Byrne opens out Austen’s story with a novelist’s persistent probing of the evidence.”
The Economist
“[Byrne] breathes yet more life into Austen and her works by considering the objects that populated her days…. [The] thematic approach offers a revealing picture of Austen and a lively social history….paints a fresh and vivid picture of an inimitable woman.”
Maureen Corrigan
“Byrne’s aim is to show how these objects, many of them reproduced in her book in lush color plates, reveal a much more cosmopolitan awareness of the world than is commonly credited to Austen.”
Bookreporter.com
“An excellent new biography…well-researched and entertaining…Byrne gives us a Jane Austen many readers may not recognize: a woman who enjoyed black humor and was well aware of the political scene of her time.”
New York Times Book Review
“Vividly persuasive…. The Real Jane Austen is excellent… particularly on the dissonant topics of theater and slavery….Byrnes section on slavery is better still, establishing links between Austen’s protagonists and contemporary figures, her pointed references and contemporary events, which highlight her supposedly oblivious fiction’s sharp views on the slave trade.”
The Washington Post - Michael Dirda
…a passion for Austen—as astringent and gimlet-eyed a novelist as ever wrote—can sometimes descend into sickly sweet sentimentality. Think of…the parasol brigade of ardent Janeites who simply adore her every word, the male readers who fall in love with Elizabeth Bennet, the female readers who sigh over Mr. Darcy. For such smitten fans, she is not Austen the sharp realist, the pioneering comic novelist of everyday life; she is rather "Our Jane, our dear, dear Jane." Paula Byrne's The Real Jane Austen aims to undermine this image of a country mouse whose entire universe was made up of a few provincial families, the supposedly reclusive spinster who embroidered novels instead of pillowcases. Byrne takes Austen seriously as a writer…Again and again, she points to evidence of the writer's worldliness and sophistication…In the end, The Real Jane Austen brings to life a woman of "wonderful exuberance and self-confidence," of "firm opinions and strong passions."
Publishers Weekly
Just in time for the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (first published in January 1813), comes Paula Byrne's vivacious new portrait of its author. The approach Byrne (Jane Austen and the Theatre) takes is refreshingly material-based and the book is experimental in structure; each chapter unfolds from the biographer's description of a small object associated with Austen's life (chapter titles include "The East Indian Shawl", "The Cocked Hat" "The Card of Lace", "The Crimson Velvet Cushions", and "The Topaz Crosses"). This technique serves two functions: firstly, it honors the precision for which Austen was famed by drawing attention to the material artifacts of her life; secondly, it challenges the "'official' family biography of Jane Austen," which stresses the novelist's "enclosed, sequestered world", coloring Austen's life with the same "ivory miniature" quality she famously ascribed to her fiction. Byrne's Austen, as revealed through this archive of objects, emerges as a worldly woman, profoundly enmeshed in a wider world than she's often acknowledged to occupy. This is an Austen with a sense for the political as well as for the finer points of sensibility-and one who will be unfamiliar (though never unrecognizable) to many readers.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
All Things Considered - NPR
"Biographer Paula Byrne has taken objects from Jane Austen’s real life and times and used them as if we were dropping in on Austen on any given day...a dynamic new biography in which Austen lives and breathes."
Library Journal
Byrne (Jane Austen and the Theatre) promises a novel addition to the body of scholarship on Jane Austen’s life. Rather than taking a cradle-to-grave approach, Byrne begins each essay in this collection with an image and description of an object of particular importance to Austen, which leads into a discussion of how these items influenced her life and informed her work. This premise is stretched thin at some points—it is arguable whether a carriage, for example, ever profoundly affected Austen—but it is an engaging narrative technique and effectively persuades that Austen intentionally drew inspiration from life in order to add what was at that time an innovative realism and verisimilitude to her novels (e.g., a familiarity with the navy and life in India, noteworthy in someone generally considered a quiet spinster). Byrne contends Austen’s authorial focus upon an object is a clue to readers that events of emotional importance are afoot. Less convincing are Byrne’s arguments that other Austen biographers and Austen’s own family were often mistaken about her character or writerly intentions.

Verdict A rarer approach to deciphering the meaning of Austen’s work through her life. Recommended for Austen fans, those committed to close reading, literature lovers, and those enthralled by discussions of authorial intention.—Megan Hodge, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., Richmond
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
For Austen obsessives, this latest study offers a few flashes of revelation amid long stretches of minutiae. Byrne (Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, 2010, etc.) describes her provocatively titled book as "something different and more experimental." The experiment would seem to be the framing of the chapters. Rather than proceeding with a conventional, chronological biography, Byrne structures her narrative around small objects and incidents--totems that expand into larger issues concerning Austen's experiences, attitudes and her beliefs. The result might be termed a biography of her novels (heavier on Mansfield Park than one might expect, lighter on Pride and Prejudice), showing how their development proceeded from the known facts of Austen's life, some of which run counter to common perception. She was more worldly than many might suspect, rather than someone bound by the British countryside and her own imagination. Byrne reveals that the author was "a very well-travelled woman," that she "very much enjoyed shopping," that "Jane Austen and her family loved charades, puzzles, conundrums and riddles," and that she was "a dedicated follower of fashion." Perhaps the most illuminating area is in the never-married (but once-engaged) author's attitude toward having a family, of how she enjoyed the company of children without idealizing or sentimentalizing them, but "seems to have had a phobia of childbirth." Ultimately, all of this accumulation of detail doesn't bring readers much closer to a woman the author admits was "a very private person" and "the most elusive of all writers with the exception of Shakespeare." Her exquisite novels remain the major source of fascination with Jane Austen.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061999109
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
01/07/2014
Pages:
400
Sales rank:
273,112
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.93(d)

What People are Saying About This

Maureen Corrigan

“Byrne’s aim is to show how these objects, many of them reproduced in her book in lush color plates, reveal a much more cosmopolitan awareness of the world than is commonly credited to Austen.”

Meet the Author

Paula Byrne is the critically acclaimed author of five biographies, including Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, The Real Jane Austen, and Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead. She lives in Oxford, England, with her husband, the academic and biographer Jonathan Bate.

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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Lizzielu More than 1 year ago
Intriguing, yet fun read about Jane Austen as seen through some of her remaining artifacts.  Lots of biographical history is associated to each item - a card of lace, miniatures, a painting.  Very well researched and a wonderful and fascinating approach to a biography of this beloved author.
gdh1003 More than 1 year ago
Byrne is entirely too speculative. She makes assertions of fact without any documentary support, including about Austen's and her family members' motivations and feelings. She also extensively ascribes Austen's characters' sentiments and actions to Austen herself, again without support for her suppositions and imaginings. And Byrne is not scrupulous about indicating the speculative nature of her conclusions. Such practices undermine the credibility of the entire work. Don't waste your time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago