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The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood Paperback – June 27, 2017
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“Byrne presents an Austen immersed in her time’s popular entertainment...any Austen devotee should appreciate the thorough analysis of the novels and the crediting of previously overlooked influences.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Paula Byrne’s THE GENIUS OF JANE AUSTEN gives us the most insightful analysis of the making of the Austen legacy. Byrne’s investigation into Austen’s enjoyment of plays…gives us real insight into how Austen learned to focus her material, make it amusing and give it critical punch…Byrne demonstrates her own ample knowledge of the history of the English theater. The illustrations she has included are colorful and instructive…Thanks to Paula Byrne, I now readily see that the amusement Austen is giving me (and herself) was inspired by plays Austen knew well and techniques she saw on the stage.” (Jane Smiley, New York Times Book Review)
About 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.
Top customer reviews
The book charts Austen’s interest in drama, originating in private family theatricals (sometimes wholly written by the Austen family), and developing through her attending professional performances in London, Bath and Southampton, before explaining how the theatre influenced Austen’s comedic fiction.
This influence is most obvious in relation to the rehearsals of Kotzebue’s play ‘Lover’s Vows’ which dominates the first quarter of ‘Mansfield Park’. Byrne not only considers this in great detail but combs all of Austen’s novels and even her juvenilia to justify her view that Austen was much influenced by drama both thematically and stylistically. This is done convincingly and in the process much light is shed on Austen’s texts, as well as helping to overturn the once conventional view, originating with Lionel Trilling, that Austen was morally opposed to theatrical undertakings.
When Byrne’s ‘Jane Austen and the Theatre’ was first published alongside Penny Gay’s book with the same title, that coincidence was attributed by at least one reviewer (John Mullan in ‘The Guardian’) to “ the spate of film and TV adaptations of recent years” which “alert us to the dramatic qualities” of Austen’s fiction, whilst reminding us of our ignorance “of the contemporary experience of drama out of which the novels come.”
In the fifteen years since that appraisal there’s been no let up in the interest in dramatizing Austen and it’s therefore fitting that the expansion to Byrne’s original volume should consist of the concluding chapter ‘Why She Is a Hit in Hollywood’, although given that this is only one of eleven chapters its prominence in the new title is somewhat misleading, as is the reference to ‘Hollywood’, which serves as shorthand for all stage and film adaptations of Austen’s novels. Indeed, in Byrne’s hands A.A. Milne’s 1936 play ‘Miss Elizabeth Bennet’ justifiably receives more attention that M.G.M.’s 1940 ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
Byrne’s assessment of various Austen-based productions is characteristically shrewd, particularly in explaining why Amy Heckerling’s ‘Clueless’ succeeds much better than Douglas McGrath’s ‘Emma” (because the former finds a way of treating Emma ironically which is much more in keeping with Austen’s intention of portraying “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like”).
In short, it is very gratifying indeed that ‘Jane Austen and the Theatre’ has been expanded and reprinted, to complement the author’s equally excellent biography of Austen (‘The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things”), in this year marking the bicentenary of Austen’s death.