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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things Hardcover – January 29, 2013
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“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)
“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.” (Times Literary Supplement (London))
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.
Top Customer Reviews
If you have never read a biography of Austen before, you may find this one jumps around a little, but it is a delightful read. If you have read many books about Jane Austen, you will still enjoy this book - and maybe even learn something new. With so many books about Austen on the market, it is a good attempt to try an original approach to this ever fascinating author, who was intelligent, witty and always realistic. Within this book you will read of her deep disquiet about the dangers of pregnancy, her religious faith and her wonderfully sharp and witty humour. Jane Austen never disappoints as a writer, or as a woman, and this is a fitting tribute to her genius.
One of the many pleasures of Byrne’s book is that she shows us an Austen who was much more than a refined yet fearless chronicler of pre-Victorian manners. Byrne begins each chapter of her “experimental” biography by describing an object that was meaningful to Jane Austen, or as Byrne puts it, “a real thing, some of them coming directly from [Austen’s] life, others evoked by her novels” in an attempt to “cast new light on Austen’s life and her fictional characters.” The result is as much a history of late 18th- and early 19th-century England as an appreciation of Austen’s artistry.
The first object Byrne describes is an engraving of Lyme Regis, a West Dorset coastal village. Byrne writes that Austen loved the sea and fainted when her father, the rector of Steventon Parsonage, decided in 1800 that the family was moving inland to Bath.Read more ›
Its thrust plays the same card throughout: that Austen was a "born" writer, whose genius simply had to find the right outlet. Such a facile conclusion to many of the concepts fails to dig into the life and times of Austen or her family. The heft of the book is less dependent on the insightfulness of the chapters than to their proliferation (18 chapters; prologue and epilogue).
Those interested in the bicentenaries of Austen publications who may grab at The Real Jane Austen as a "first" biography (being new and readily available) will be rewarded in learning about Austen's life, the "scenes" allowing for small bytes of information; anyone coming to the biography from the mass of other Austen biographies already out in the marketplace will happily read it, but also notice the well-trod ground Byrne walks.
Perhaps time was a constraint: Get out a biography while the "Jane Austin" Portrait controversy is still warm. The most absorbing chapters fully utilize their objects to explore Austen's life and, of course, her work. In spite of a few mistakes, a few over-reaching suppositions, and some little repetition, the themes raised in The Real Jane Austen will entice its audience to give Austen's own works a well-deserved, and better-informed, (re)read.
3 1/2 stars
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It's been fun learning about life in general in Jane Austen's time, and the influences that came to her when she lived. I enjoyed this book for the information and point of view. Read morePublished 21 days ago by Ari
I have not read any biographies of Jane Austen — mostly because, from the little I've read about her life, it sounded pretty boring. Read morePublished 1 month ago by FryLady
Very well written, good research, I couldn't put it down
I went to Chawton and Winchester in may 2015 and the author tales are very authentic
This is one of the best biographies I've read on this topic. I learned things I never knew, and my knowledge of things I did know was expanded. Read morePublished 2 months ago by hola
I'm a huge Jane Austen fan and found this biography very good. I think this book is best read by someone with an understanding of all Ms. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Donna Crete
This is a book that must be read by anyone who really wants to know WHO Jane Austen was and what her qualifications were to write in the manner that she did. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Catherine Hays
I was intrigued by this book because I love books that take an item and go off on a tangent about an historical piece. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Georgia
What a great book, especially for Jane Austen's lovers. It's a careful study of Austen's life, and of historical or curious facts related to her. Read morePublished 8 months ago by leila vm
I happen to love the work of Jane Austen so I very much wanted to know more about the author. This book is OK, but it seems to go off on tangents talking about people other than... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Dr.L.