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The Real Jane Austen [Paperback]

Paula Byrne
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 Jan 2013

Who was the real Jane Austen? Overturning the traditional portrait of the author as conventional and genteel, bestseller Paula Byrne’s landmark biography reveals the real woman behind the books.

Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen was published in 1997 and, although it contained little new research, sold xxxxxxx.

Paula Byrne – an internationally renowned Jane Austen scholar and a best-selling biographer – has uncovered a very different Jane Austen to the Jane of popular imagination.

This Jane, revealed in the first biography written for a general readership but based on the most up-to-date scholarship – is a woman deeply immersed in the culture around her, but also far ahead of her time in her independence and tough-mindedness.. Throughout, this book gives the sense of Austen as an astute commentator on human nature in general and her own age in particular, and above all as a writer of independence and ambition.

Each chapter is focussed on a key moment in Austen’s life: eg. when her handicapped brother is removed from the family, when her exotic cousin Eliza arrives in the family circle, when her aunt was arrested for shoplifting, her time alone in London. The book also gives detailed attention to the novels themselves.

After this book, no longer can Austen be viewed as someone who did not engage with the great political events of her time. How many lovers of her work are aware that the Prince Regent kept a debauched household down the road from her village, that she was related by marriage to other major literary figures of the time such as the libertine Gothic novelist William Beckford and her favourite poet George Crabbe. The book will also identify her long lost seaside love as well as argue that her assumed ‘genteel’ sense of humour could also be savage, highly subversive irony.

Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress (17 Jan 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000747976X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007479764
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 561,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paula Byrne was born in Birkenhead. Her first book, Jane Austen and the Theatre, was shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize. Her second book, Perdita, was a Richard and Judy book-club pick and a best-seller. Her third, Mad World:Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead is 'the fascinating story of a great house and a great family.' It was published to rave reviews in 2009 and was another best-seller. She is married to Jonathan Bate and lives in Oxford.

Product Description


‘The perfect companion to the novels … Tremendous’ Joanna Trollope, Sunday Telegraph

‘A neat approach to biography, allowing Byrne to burrow deep beneath the surface of Austen’s existence. The result is a delightful and engrossing portrait’ Sunday Times

‘Byrne's essays add up to a fine appraisal of the novelist's environment, truly Austenish in the way they burrow into a sequestered and often secretive private world’ Observer

‘A perceptive and energetic guide to Austen and her surroundings … Byrne’s critical study consists of a series of beautifully written, interrelated essays … [her] style gives fresh charms to her subject matter. ‘The Real Jane Austen’ is bold, fast-moving and accessible’ Daily Telegraph

‘Engaging, compelling, a delightful and engrossing book. Of course we all know that the "real" Jane Austen will forever be a mystery, but most 21st century Janeites will adore this one. Byrne's passion is nothing if not persuasive’ Sunday Times

‘What is fresh in Byrne's biographical approach is her use of a succession of contemporary objects that Austen owned, or that might be seen in intimate connection with her interests … this adds an attractive immediacy to a well-known story … Byrne's affectionate study paints a pleasingly lively picture of Austen's life’ Independent

‘Brilliantly illuminating … riveting. By focusing, chapter by chapter, on one thread or another of Austen's experience, Byrne allows us to grasp the richness of her inner life’ Simon Callow, Guardian

‘The portrait of Austen that emerges is sparklingly multi-faceted, catching the light in intriguing ways … her Jane is far less likely to go for a quiet walk in the garden than she is to be whisked into town in search of a velvet cushion, a necklace or a smart new dress’ Irish Mail on Sunday

About the Author

Paula Byrne was born in Birkenhead. Her first book, Jane Austen and the Theatre, was shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize. Her second book, Perdita, was a Richard and Judy book-club pick and a best-seller. Her third, Mad World:Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead is ‘the fascinating story of a great house and a great family.’ It was published to rave reviews in 2009 and was another best-seller. She is married to Jonathan Bate and lives in Oxford.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as real as all that 2 Nov 2013
By C. Wake
Paula Byrne's Jane Austen is as much a product of the imagination as all the other Jane Austens of biography. It must be so because we have - as Byrne candidly admits - so very little evidence about Austen's life. There never was very much. Austen was an almost entirely private person, and her devoted sister, already by the 1840's experiencing the over-enthusiasm of "Janeites", carefully destroyed any letters that might have excited the Paula Byrnes of her day. Biographers ever since - their name is legion - have relied on magnifying a few remaining scraps from Austen herself, and from the second and third generation reminiscences of her family.

Byrne's USP is to turn the magnifier on some "real" - that is, solid - fragments that remain to this day, surviving relics worshipped by the faithful. Among them are Austen's portable writing-desk (her "laptop"), the topaz crosses that Charles Austen bought for Jane and Cassandra from his prize-money, and "Volume the Second" of Austen's juvenalia. Byrne builds on these and other objects to give us essays on Austen's writing habits, family relationships, and social attitudes. This is an interesting technique, especially as the book includes very good colour photographs of all the objects mentioned.

Some of said objects are a bit remote from Austen. A wonderful Zoffany portrait of Lord Chief Justice Mansfield's daughter is there to introduce the "colonialist" reading of Mansfield Park - making it a novel about slavery - which Patricia Rozema made famous in her 1999 film. Lord Mansfield's appeal court judgement released any slave who set foot in England; Jane Austen met his daughter at a Godmersham dinner party (years after both the portrait and the judgement); therefore Mansfield Park is named for Mansfield and is all about slavery.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Life in Small Things 6 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a biography with a difference, in which the author takes an item that Jane Austen either owned, used or would have seen and uses it as a springboard to discuss aspects of her life. These range from an East Indian Shawl, which leads on to discussions of husband hunting in the Raj, the harsh realities of the Georgian marriage market and even the French Revolution; a Barouche, which obviously prompts talk of travel, domestic in Austen's case with the country at war for much of her life; or a Card of Lace, which leads to the delights of shopping - and the notoriety of shoplifting... In fact, each object, from a Royalty Cheque, a Bathing Machine or 'The Laptop', results in a wide range of topics and how each aspect of Jane Austen's life experiences, from her family, writing influences, her love of the theatre, neighbours and romances and betrothals, not only influenced her personally, but were used to great effect in her writing.

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.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't judge this book by its cover! 17 Jan 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm only a few chapters into this lovely biography of Austen, and (especially as a fellow alumna of Liverpool University!) am greatly enjoying Dr Byrne's scholarly yet accessible style and her original approach to her subject. This is the sort of book that makes you want to go back to the novels again, no matter how many times you have read them. I have also added Austen's juvenile works to my must-read list for this year. If you think you know your Austen, think again...
My only small criticism is of the dustjacket to this hardback edition - while very pretty in its way it looks like the wrapper for a lightweight chick-lit novel and bears no relation to the actual content!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and informative.. 16 Sep 2013
By jaffareadstoo TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
The `real' Jane Austen will forever be an enigma, but this interesting book goes some to way to bring out the hidden and perhaps more homely traits of her personality, which all too often can get lost inside the more academic studies of Jane Austen's life. By taking small and inoffensive items that Jane may have owned, and by using then using these items as a springboard, we are allowed a tantalising glimpse into the life of a woman who was completely comfortable with herself, and who was totally of her time.

Nicely presented, in easily organised chapters, I found that this was one of those books which is easy to dip into and out of at whim, and as the book progresses it's almost like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with the end result being that of a complete portrait of one of our most fascinating novelists.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars very readable 20 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Jane Austen's life told in a series of snapshots. It may add nothing new to the bank of facts known about her life, experience and thoughts, but uses well the material available from letters and contemporary writings to reveal the Jane we all love.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great new insight into Austens novels
I wasn't sure I would find this interesting as it is such an unusual take on a biography but the more I read, the more fascinating it became. Read more
Published 7 days ago by Sherley
5.0 out of 5 stars A wealth of detail for fans of Jane Austen
Don't be deceived by the title or the cover picture. This is a meticulously-researched and comprehensive biography of Jane Austen. Read more
Published 8 days ago by GeordieReader
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by soumaiyah dajani
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
I my view, this is an excellent read. It really opens up the true analysis of what Jane Austen in all probability was like via letters and and witness accounts. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Susan Vallance
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting view on the life of Jane Austen
This is an interesting and unusual view into the life and writing of Jane Austen. Exploring objects mentioned in her work and those known to have bolonged to her
Published 2 months ago by ZOWEECAT
3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed book
It is very scholarly and the author clearly has researched the subject extensively and with great understanding. It is also very well written. Read more
Published 3 months ago by H. S. B. Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars I stepped into her world
Having read widely on Jane Austen, it was an utter treat to see her in a new light and, as a consequence, her novels. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jenwren
5.0 out of 5 stars Best biography
Ms Byrne considers a series of real articles from jane Austen's life and uses them to illustrate gear character and experiences. Read more
Published 5 months ago by blackcatgib
5.0 out of 5 stars very readable - just not long enough!
A very original approach to biography, which dips in and out of Jane Austen's life via a variety of objects linked to her - some more convincingly than others (I was delighted at... Read more
Published 5 months ago by tangerina
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling
Describing things and events that Jane Austen would have known and experienced gave a much broader picture of her life. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ann S.
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