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The Real Jane Austen Paperback – 17 Jan 2013
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|Paperback, 17 Jan 2013||
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‘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
From the Back Cover
Acclaimed biographer Paula Byrne explores the forces that shaped the interior life of one of the most beloved novelists in the English language: her father's religious faith; her mother's aristocratic pedigree; her eldest brother's adoption; her relatives in the East and West Indies; the family's amateur theatricals; and her determination throughout her long struggle to become a published author. The woman who emerges is far tougher, more socially and politically aware, and altogether more modern than the conventional picture. Like a superb archaeologist, Byrne uses artifacts from Jane Austen's life to craft a vivid and more complex portrait of the writer than we have ever seen.--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition. See all Product description
Top customer reviews
I have always loved Jane Austen's novels, but never thought that the woman herself was very interesting. This superb biography has proved me wrong.
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. Well, perhaps; it's an ingenious line of thought - but the reader of the actual novel might more easily see the mention of slavery in it as a mere plot device rather than a central concern.
The limitations of this book are the limitations of the author. She is an enthusiast, sometimes a rather gushing enthusiast, but she is no expert, either on Austen or the early 19th century. Her lack of background knowledge is betrayed by the details she gets wrong. She is not sure whether Henry Austen had children - a major item of family history. She thinks that Charles Austen won that prize-money by personal valour - not understanding that naval prize money was distributed solely on the basis of rank. Captain Wentworth was no doubt a dashing officer, but he only got rich because he was already a Captain.
Such points sound trivial, but if you don't properly understand your period of study, it is almost inevitable that when you look into the well of history you will see your own face reflected back. Paula Byrne's Jane Austen is a vigorous, outgoing, socially adept, commercially conscious careerist, much more like Miss Byrne herself than any possible gentlewoman who lived a life of retired spinsterhood in the early 1800's.
Hard-core Janeites will not find much new insight here. Others would probably be better served by Deirdre Le Faye's 1989 revision of the Austen's family's own take on Jane. Le Faye tells us what we know, what we can reasonably guess, and makes clear which is which; and raises no psychological dust whatsoever.
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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