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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,200 Ratings  ·  223 Reviews
Book description to come.
ebook, 400 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Harper (first published January 1st 2013)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sherwood Smith
Not too long ago there was an uproar in Jane Austen circles at the discovery of a drawing that was labeled Jane Austen, depicting an upright woman of middle years whose face betrays illness. She is posed by a window, she has writing implements before her in a prominent place, and she wears what appears to be a spinster's cap. According to speculation going around, the author of this book was given the drawing by her husband, after which they both pushed hard to get it authenticated; some specula ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
Mar 03, 2015 Gary the Bookworm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

In this engaging and scholarly biography of Jane Austen, Paula Byrne successfully dispels many of the myths swirling around her subject. According to Byrne, Miss Austen was a well-traveled, urbane sophisticate who demonstrated a vibrant interest, not just in literature - both classical and contemporary - but in politics, theology and the theater. Byrne identifies objects and relationships that were familiar to Austen and uses them to illuminate important aspects of Austen's personal life and con
Jan 15, 2013 Lucinda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This insightful, fascinating perspective on Britain’s most beloved novelist is a must-read for all literary fans and aficionados!

Reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Northanger Abbey’ from a young age are some of my fondest memories, as my childhood, teenage years and adulthood have been interlaced with Austen’s elegance, erudition and perception on romance. Her stories (read in books and watched on film in numerous adaptations) are as dear to me as history itself, for they speak of truth and are
Feb 09, 2014 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I have never really been a big Austen fan, which along with my relative indifference to Shakespeare and Chaucer when I began my first degree reaaaally made other lit students look at me askance. I still think that those three are pushed upon us to a ridiculous degree, and often its not even their best work that is touted as The Book To Read (for example, I favour Troilus and Criseyde over The Canterbury Tales, and pretty much anything over Romeo and Juliet). But anyway, I've slowly come to appre ...more
Jan 18, 2013 Laura rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week
Paula Byrne explores the forces that shaped the interior life of the popular novelist
Sep 29, 2014 Phoebe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Byrne tells us in her afterword that there have been so many works about Austen already, that any new offerings have to be innovative and different. Hers is, and I found it to be entertaining, enlightening, and interesting. She chooses objects that held significance to Jane and begins each section with a description of these things. Then she skillfully segues into related biographical detail. It is clear that Byrne knows her subject; she discusses letter after letter and puts familiar phrases an ...more
Oct 30, 2013 Penny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really enjoyable biography - such an excellent idea to have 18 chapters, each one beginning with an different object. This object (also photographed in colour) becomes the theme of the chapter, telling us more about Austen, her family and her life.
Byrne is at pains to shatter the myth of the lonely spinster never stirring far from home and unaware of the 'bigger picture' of her times. She produces plenty of evidence to show that not only was Austen well travelled, but her wide network
May 04, 2016 Artfulreader rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Biographies are invariably "children of their time"; another book that details Austens life from cradle to grave with to much minutiae wouldn't cut it in our day.
We have neither the need(it's been done) nor the want.

This biography takes a different strategy and very successfully so. In the acknowledgements(I always always read that stuff) Byrne writes of her high regard for Richard Holmes. That to me is a good thing; his book "the age of wonder" was one of my favourite books last year(when I fin
C Valeri
Jul 26, 2015 C Valeri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very original and interesting biography ! I couldn't put it down. Presents Austen as the total bad ass I can guarantee she was along with the dysfunctional, intelligent, close-knit family of which she was a part! Inspiring woman and writer!
Mar 30, 2013 Marcie rated it it was amazing
I don't think I'll ever tire of reading about Jane Austen. There's something about her that captivates me. I've read several biographies about Austen, but I couldn't stay away from this one. Byrne writes this book, not about the things most of her audience are familiar with, but on the things in her life that seemed to have the biggest impact on her that made her the author that we fell in love with. This book is very untextbook-like and really easy to read. Byrne goes over in great detail, but ...more
Rosario (
This is not your usual biography. Rather than take a linear, chronological approach and go through Jane Austen's life step by step, Byrne chooses to use use objects relevant to her life as a starting point. Through them, she presents a fascinating look at Austen's life and times.

An Indian shawl sparks off an exploration of how Austen wasn't a closed-off, provincial writer. Rather, she had plenty of international connections, and Byrne shows how this is reflected in her work. This portrait, show
Apr 05, 2013 Linera rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is certainly among the best, if not the best of the Jane Austen biographies I've read, and I've read most of them. I can't say all, because there are undoubtedly new ones coming out every nanosecond. Ms. Byrne understands that Jane Austen was not a sad single lady, but a serious professional writer who chose to remain single in order to do the work she was born to do, to write the novels that have come down to us. Byrne's approach is to explain the uses and meanings of various objects that ...more
Margaret Sullivan
The organization of this book was interesting: Paula Byrne chose an object related to Austen's life and work and then wrote a biographical essay related to that item. It worked better for some items than others; some of the essays were rather digressive and wandering. However, the ones that worked, worked very well. I particularly liked the chapters on "The Daughter of Mansfield" (Dido Belle and Mansfield Park), the Bathing Machine (Austen's love of the sea) and the Topaz Cross (Austen's affecti ...more
Rebecca Huston
A fascinating and well-written book about the life of Jane Austen as seen through a collection of objects that she used. There are writing books, a writing slope, a card of lace, a shawl from India, and the like. I really enjoyed reading this method of writing, and the end result was a deeper look at what and where and who Jane Austen used to create her novels. Along with the narrative, there are drawings and photographs of the objects, along with extensive notes and a bibliography. Five stars o ...more
Apr 21, 2015 Darcy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was fascinating and informative. Byrne used specific objects, such as a card of lace or an ivory miniature, to explore Jane Austen’s experiences, her relationships (with particular emphasis on Jane’s naval brothers and her sister), her novels, and her historical context. She does this in such an engaging way that after reading this I feel that I know Jane Austen and I have a greater understanding of her writing. I particularly love this emphasis on “a life in small things.” After all, ...more
Feb 13, 2014 Romily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is a delightful addition to biographies of Jane Austen, which takes an oblique approach to revealing her life and that of those around her. I liked the way that each chapter expands from the consideration of an object connected with her, such as a royalty cheque, a topaz cross or a card of lace. Nothing really new is revealed about Jane Austen's life, but the available facts are presented in a fresh and novel way, so that the reader feels much closer to understanding her daily life and the ...more
Mar 13, 2015 Carolyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I stumbled across this somewhere (probably as a recommendation on Amazon) as a result of my recent re-reading all of Jane Austen's novels. I was intrigued, so I got a copy, and I loved it! Byrne takes a very unusual approach to biography by beginning each chapter with the discussion of some object (usually literally an object, such as a carriage or a shawl, but sometimes something cultural such as "sisters"), investigating it's role in Austen's life, and showing how that played out in her novels ...more
Mar 25, 2015 Hayden rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, historical, nf
I'm reading two Jane Austen biographies, this one and Jane Austen: A Life. This one is interesting mainly for context about the time period. I feel sorry for both biographers because Austen's sister burned almost all her letters and boy, they really hate her for it.

The one real takeaway from this book is that Austen was a HARD CORE career woman. She wanted to be famous. Despite the fact that custom demanded her books be written by "A Lady," she told everyone she met that she wrote them. And she
Rather than write the usual kind of biography which begins with the subject's birth/early years and follows their life in a linear pattern, this book picks a subject and builds upon it, although some of them do appear to have a rather tenuous connection.

There is a focus on what made Jane Austen a writer, who or what influenced her - such as her childhood family plays, her brothers' experiences in the navy, army/militia, the people she met both at home and on her travels. What comes out of this b
Elizabeth Moffat
May 10, 2013 Elizabeth Moffat rated it really liked it
I’m a big fan of Ms Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility being my favourites, so I was excited to read this new biography by Paula Byrne, having enjoyed her previous biography about Evelyn Waugh. It’s a great read, written to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice and one I’d highly recommend for any “Janeites” out there. What makes it more interesting for me is how it is structured, instead of the factual dryness you can sometimes get with biographies, the a ...more
Probable Fiction

Alla fine del libro Paula Byrne spiega che il grosso del lavoro biografico su Jane Austen è stato fatto da Deirdre Le Faye, e sostiene che, dopo il suo A Chronology of Jane Austen and Her Family (pubblicato dalla Cambridge University Press per la modica cirfra di centoventi sterline), ogni biografia birth to death risulti superflua, e chiunque voglia avventurarsi nell'impresa debba trovare un approccio originale.
Credo che la Byrne ci sia riuscita. A Life in Small Things non è inf
James Lawless
May 04, 2013 James Lawless rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Is it possible to know the real Jane Austen? For the sake of family decorum Jane's sister Cassandra destroyed nearly three thousand of the letters between them, keeping a mere sixty or so innocuous or censored ones to tell us little beyond their humdrum domestic life.
Jane Byrne approaches the question in an original manner differing from previous biographies in that she begins each chapter with an object connected to the life or work of the author: a silhouette, a barouche, a cocked hat, a velv
Jan 10, 2016 JoLee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review originally published at: Red Letter Reads

Paula Byrne’s new biography of Jane Austen is well-written, exhaustively researched, and extremely informative. The book is also very scholarly. Byrne does not attempt to create a narrative of Austen’s life. Instead she organizes the chapters by topic. Some examples: One chapter is about Austen’s love of the theater, another is about her knowledge of the navy, a third focuses on her opinions about slavery and a fourth discusses her travels.Byrne de
Amanda Himes
Aug 26, 2013 Amanda Himes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: austen
As an Austen scholar, I have found much of the information in The Real Jane Austen to be contained in other biographies (by Tomalin, Auerbach, Halperin), but some gems are unique to Byrne. For me, highlights of this biography included:

The "spectacular history of madness” running through Austen's mother's side of the family, the Leighs of Stoneleigh(19).

That British society in India considered it fact that the mother of Austen's cousin Eliza, Mrs. Hancock, had “abandoned herself to Mr. [Warren]
Apr 24, 2016 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful. Perhaps not the first biography of Austen you should read, but an unconventional discussion of the many influences on her work. For her time and position, she was well-traveled and very tuned in to the politics and culture of her day. Very enjoyable. Byrne is knowledgeable and points out many things I was unaware of in the work.
May 28, 2015 Katharine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, clearly written biography built around a theme for each chapter - a topical, rather than chronological, life. It made sense to my brain and I found it more interesting than straight timeline.

The author was a little aggressive about her "version" of Jane Austen - the title alone reveals the tone. I don't disagree with her but it was perhaps a little repetitive and overstated. I'm okay with some mystery around JA still. There were also a few spots where the distant connections to the "
Jonna Higgins-Freese
This sounded fascinating, but the immediate deep dive into minutia -- of things, complex relationships (so-and-so's niece's brother's friend's cousin) without any overarching context and with little help navigating the names (several related Jane Austen's, for example), made it too much of a slog to get through.
Linda Banche
Mar 04, 2013 Linda Banche rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An iconoclastic work that destroys the long-held view that Jane Austen was a naïve country spinster who knew nothing about the world outside of home and family. This book gives a fascinating view of an aware, opinionated, and sometimes astringent Jane.

Although we read her novels now mainly for the romances, the romances exist in the textured, multilayered Georgian and Regency world in which she lived and which she portrayed as well as she portrayed any of her characters. A great way to update ou
Apr 20, 2016 Deirdre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paula Burne takes 18 items that belonged to or were an influence on Jane Austen, looking at her life and how she lived and how she drew inspiration from everything around her to inform her work. Interesting social history of the era.
May 20, 2013 Caroline rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Referencing letters, notes and objects she cherished in her personal life, the author provides an interesting biography of Jane Austen. Within lie many links between the characters in the books she wrote and characters she grew up with or met along her life's journey. Through stories told to her by her seafaring and clergyman brothers as well as a favorite rather wild aunt who had lived in France, in addition to their letters and gifts, Jane Austen broadened and enriched the lives of her charact ...more
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Paula Byrne is a British author and biographer. She is married to writer Jonathan Bate, the Shakespeare scholar.
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