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  ·  433 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Book description to come.
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
Lucinda
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...more
Nikki
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
Laura
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 (http://rosario.blogspot.com/)
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...more
Linera
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
Romily
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
Marcie
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
Claire
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...more
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...more
JoLee
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...more
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]...more
Penny
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...more
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...more
Caroline
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
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...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!
Leslie
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
Susan
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.
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.
Marci
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
D
Not just another Jane Austen biography. Taking objects from the real life of Jane Austen - the ivory miniature, the topaz crosses, the vellum notebooks - the author casts shade and light on Jane Austen's life and books.
Danine
Jul 30, 2014 Danine rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Serious readers of Jane a
Shelves: georgians
A book I wish I had written! Paula Byrne has tracked down every detail we know of Jane Austen's life, and presented it in a charmingly thematic manner, revolving around historic objects that relate to JAs world. She confirms the impressions I had upon reading JAs Letters with solid evidence. Forget the reclusive, modest spinster aunt. From adolescence Jane Austen wanted to be a writer, and worked at that consistently. She travelled throughout the south of England, and thoroughly enjoyed the thea...more
Allison
I thought this was marvelous. Among the most enjoyable biographies I have ever read. Byrne dispenses with the usual mode of the exact chronology, and instead she builds her portrait around objects one might associate with Austen, whether they are representative Edwardian trinkets or actual possessions of Austen's. For example, in one chapter she describes and depicts Austen's lap writing desk, and she uses this motif to discuss Austen's writing process throughout her career. This novel (pun inte...more
Carol
Honestly -- this is the best biography of Jane Austen ever! Paula Byrne is amazing biographer. Her writing is very personal but also shows us everyday how Jane Austen brought her characters to life. l truly enjoyed Byrne's writing.

Great review by The Guardian (2/2013) --
The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne – review
The objects connected to Austen's life offer revealing insights into her inner thoughts.

When Dickens' biographer and friend John Forster read the newly written...more
Sharon Stoneman
It has taken a long time, but scholars are finally re-visiting the story of Jane Austen as a reclusive spinster, living from the crumbs of her indifferent family, writing secretly in the parlour and thwarted on all fronts. The enduring popularity of her books has kept interest in the author alive and Ms Byrne's book provides a very interesting look at Austen, her work and her times.

Rather than write a biography that commences with 'Jane Austen was born in 1775' and continues in a line to her dea...more
Gabby
I would give this more like a 3.5. Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I think you have to be a hardcore Austen fan to truly enjoy it.

It took me a little longer to make it through this book than I normally do. Granted, it's non-fiction, and a biography, to boot, so that was part of it. But, the way the author approached this biography was ... interesting. Instead of moving chronologically through Austen's life, she instead chose facets of Austen's life or Georgian society to highlight how that af...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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