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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things
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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  818 ratings  ·  169 reviews
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ebook, 400 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Harper (first published January 1st 2013)
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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

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
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
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 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Elizabeth Moffat
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

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
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
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]
Linda Banche
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
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
Honor Kelly
I very much enjoyed this, even putting aside a novel or two in order to read just one more chapter... It's not a linear biography of Jane Austen, so it doesn't simply repeat what we already know about her. Instead, the author cleverly organizes each chapter around an item--an ivory miniature, a barouche, a shawl--(hence the subtitle)--and uses that item as a jumping-off point to discuss some aspect of Austen's life. The result is a loosely chronological treatment, but not a life-story: rather, i ...more
Nicholas Ennos
I understand that this book was commissioned by the publishers, perhaps because it is some time since a new Jane Austen biography appeared.

The book was also heavily promoted by the (publicly funded) BBC on which advertising is prohibited. It was serialised on Radio 4 and on television there was a programme about a possible portrait of Jane Austen that coincidentally had just been discovered by the author of this book.

The author faces the same problem as all Jane Austen biographers, which is that
Andrea Johnson
I quite enjoyed this, although I think I'd give it 3.5 stars, if given the option. There were times the author felt a bit presumptuous - making rather sweeping statements (perhaps there were good references in the print copy, but I was listening on audiobook, so I missed it, if there were), or more than a few "other researchers have come to such-and-such a conclusion, but in REALITY it's ______." Oh, IS it now?? Even some things about the novel that I was a bit iffy on - I grant you, it's been s ...more
Teresa Rust
This is a very thorough and revealing work showing the connection between Jane's real life and her literary characters. A MUST READ for ALL Janeites!
This was a lovely way to approach a biography -- it not only gave a thematic based perspective to the events of Jane Austen's life, but it felt like a museum tour through the significant people in her life and events of the time. The writer was critical without being too academic, engaging without being dopey or sappy, and respectful of those of us who love Jane Austen. In a couple of chapters, I would have preferred for information to come back more clearly to its relevance to understanding who ...more
While I have read so many biographies of
Jane Austen , I still enjoyed this newest book
about her life and times. Instead of the usual
chronological or subject matter method of organization, this author chooses objects or
geography or scenes as the method of unfold/
ing the story of Jane Austen. It's an interesting
and lively approach and makes a book worth reading.
This is definitely an unusual biography. Before beginning it, I was reasonably conversant with the events of Austen's life, having read Claire Tomalin's thorough biography some years ago. If the reader hasn't perused a similar work, they might be in for some confusion, as the book's nonlinear structure assumes the reader already has a working knowledge of the author's story. That said, the intimate details the Byrne is able to convey through her focus on specific touchstones bring to life the re ...more
Jan Underhill
I tried to read this book slowly for a change because I hated to leave the world it evoked. Odd: it didn't seem to try that hard, but it was ingenious to use everyday items to create a sense of physical reality in space and time of the person who in turn created such vivid imaginary worlds. A rare treat, and over too soon. I wanted more.
I enjoyed so very many things about this book that it would take me forever (or the length of the book itself) to write about them. Paula Byrne hit on a wonderful way of approaching Jane Austen's life: that of describing objects, such as velvet cushions in the church pew, topaz crosses, a writing desk, an ivory miniature, and theatrical scenery, among a lot of others. She explains fully what the function of the object is in the lives of an eighteenth-century family, and where supported by writte ...more
Girl with her Head in a Book
Jane Austen led a private life, made even more private after her passing when her adored sister Cassandra destroyed the majority of her letters. Only one hundred and sixty survive out of thousands, leaving gaping holes in her timeline. What was left was the authorised family memoir, the spinster aunt who lived a peaceful parsonage life and wrote only for family and close friends. That Jane Austen never sought fame or renown, she wrote novels concerning three or four families of neighbour, little ...more
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Paula Byrne is a British author and biographer. She is married to writer Jonathan Bate, the Shakespeare scholar.
More about Paula Byrne...
Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice Jane Austen and the Theatre Emma: A Sourcebook

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