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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things Hardcover – January 29, 2013
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“[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.” (The Economist)
“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.” (Maureen Corrigan, NPR)
“A vivacious portrait…Byrne’s Austen 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.” (Publishers Weekly)
“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.” (Bookreporter.com)
“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.” (New York Times Book Review)
“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.” (Literary Omnivore)
“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.” (NPR/All Things Considered)
“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.” (Michael Dirda, Washington Post)
“A fresh behind-the-scenes look at an author who, for many, stands behind only Shakespeare as the greatest English writer.” (Shelf Awareness)
“Brilliantly illuminating…riveting…Again and again…Byrne opens out Austen’s story with a novelist’s persistent probing of the evidence.” (Simon Callow, The Guardian)
From the Back Cover
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things offers a startlingly original look at the revered writer through a variety of key moments, scenes, and objects in her life and work. Going beyond previous traditional biographies which have traced Austen’s daily life from Steventon to Bath to Chawton to Winchester, Paula Byrne’s portrait—organized thematically and drawn from the most up-to-date scholarship and unexplored sources—explores the lives of Austen’s extended family, friends, and acquaintances. Through their absorbing stories, we view Austen on a much wider stage and discover unexpected aspects of her life and character. Byrne transports us to different worlds—the East Indies and revolutionary Paris—and different events—from a high society scandal to a petty case of shoplifting, She follows Austen on her extensive travels, setting her in contexts both global and English, urban and rural, political and historical, social and domestic—wider perspectives of vital and still under-estimated importance to her creative life.
Literary scholarship has revealed that letters and tokens in Austen’s novel’s often signal key turning points in the unfolding narrative. This groundbreaking biography explores Jane's own story following the same principle. As Byrne reveals, small things in the writer's world—a scrap of paper, a simple gold chain, an ivory miniature, a bathing machine—hold significance in her emotional and artistic development. The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things introduces us to a woman deeply immersed in the world around her, yet far ahead of her time in her independence and ambition; to an author who was an astute commentator on human nature and the foibles of her own age. Rich and compelling, it is a fresh, insightful, and often surprising portrait of an artist and a vivid evocation of the complex world that shaped her.
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Be that as it may -- not everybody agrees with her about the portrait -- this book is a delight.
Paula Byrne takes a number of items -- either owned by Jane Austen, or contemporary with her -- and uses them to explore several areas of JA's daily life.
The result is a series of fascinating vignettes about family scandals, sea-bathing, visits to London, Bath and the seaside, the theatre, Britain's wars and colonies, shopping, home amusements and much else that pertained to Jane Austen's world.
Backed up with many quotations from JA's letters and novels, the book helps us greatly to understand her preoccupations -- not only what she wrote about, but what she remained silent about.
In conclusion, we are left with a vivid, comprehensive, unsentimental impression of Jane Austen's character which rings truer than the many more imaginative portraits that we have been offered, not least by her own family.
Cannot recommend this too highly -- enchanting.
Breaking away from the image of a virtuous prissy spinster which the Victorian Austen family tried to create for Jane Austen, and creating the new image of a first brilliant and confident teenager, who develops into an accomplished and equally confident mature writer, is a most welcome achievement on Paula Byrne's part. I definitely accept her conclusion, that the famous "Byrne portrait" of "Miss Jane Austin" definitely represents Jane's final personality, even though its authenticity as a portrait from life cannot be 100% ascertained.