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The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,113 ratings  ·  362 reviews
Acclaimed literary biographer Paula Byrne takes a highly original approach in this landmark biography, providing the most intimate and revealing portrait yet of the distinguished and beloved novelist-a Jane Austen for the twenty-first century.

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things offers a startlingly original look at the revered writer through a variety of key momen
Hardcover, 380 pages
Published January 29th 2013 by Harper
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 ·  2,113 ratings  ·  362 reviews

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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
Katie Lumsden
Jul 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
A strong biography – engaging, nicely structured, with well-researched details and strong interpretations. I'd definitely recommend, though this is probably more suited to those who know a bit about Jane Austen's life already. ...more
Gary  the Bookworm
Feb 16, 2015 rated it really liked it

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
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
I listened to this for a month on my drive back and forth from work and it was delightful. I learned a lot about Jane Austen and I'm even a bigger fan now. ...more
Abigail Bok
Jul 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
True fans of Jane Austen can never get enough of reading about her novels or her life, sparse though both may be. This is a book to please true fans, especially those not deeply immersed in the more academic end of Jane Austen research. It might be classed as biography but is not a "starter" bio, being arranged as a series of essays instead of a birth-to-death narrative.

Byrne has chosen to focus on a series of objects that belonged to Jane Austen or touched her life in some way, ranging from a l
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: Sherwood Smith
A biography of Jane Austen with a wonderful host of details. The author has a tendency to theorize and assume beyond the facts; she has too many little stories that she just made up, or thoughts she thinks Austen definitely had. On the other hand, there's a luminous quality to the writing at points and I love learning about all of the little details of life around Austen, from a cousin's escape from the Terror to the make of her writing desk. ...more
Jan 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Elizabeth A.G.
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very insightful and interesting biography. The author reveals Jane Austen's close family relations and her motivations, ambitions and determination as a writer. Excellent synopses of her novels and how her personal life influenced those novels. ...more
Ian Slater
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First of all, “The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things” is a fascinating, well-written, and intriguing book, with a very few small problems.

Even so, I would never suggest Paula Byrnes book to someone who had not read at least one conventional biography of Jane Austen beforehand, just to to get a clearer chronological order of events. (See, strictly for an example, Jane Aiken Hodge’s “Only A Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen,” which is from the point of view of an experienced novelist.)

Oct 25, 2013 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
Rose Servitova
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Have been savouring this book over the last month or two and was so sad when it came to an end. It's so special, giving intimate details of Jane Austen's life that I had not read elsewhere. I feel like I know the person, the author, the sister so much better now. I loved, loved it. ...more
Sep 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Every scholar brings their own interpretations and insights to their subject. No matter how many books on Jane Austen I read, there is always something new to learn.

Byrne's book is entertaining and I enjoyed reading it. She considers Austen through the lens of physical objects that impacted her life. Yes, the famous amber cross gifted by her brother is one, and her writing desk gifted from her father. Also, the card of lace her aunt was accused of stealing and the bathing machines Austen would h
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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! ...more
Jan 14, 2013 rated it liked it
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
This new book uses ordinary objects from Jane Austen's life to examine the famous author's life and times. Paula Byrne seeks to show that Jane Austen was far more than the demure spinster aunt her family portrayed her in the Victorian era. Instead of a life limited to "Three or four families in a country village," Jane Austen had a wider range of experiences that influenced her writing. Each chapter revolves around one particular object and shows how that object fit into Jane Austen's life. Paul ...more
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it

I'm glad to have read a biography of one of my favorite authors, Jane Austen, especially one that contains many pieces of her personal writings in the form of letters and journals. The book was clearly well research (and annotated and cited, too) and there was an abundance of tie-ins from Austen's life to the lives of her characters in her books. I don't know why her family said that she did't want people to know she was the author of her books, or that she didn't insert any people she was acqua

Sep 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC radio listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: Laura

Written by Paula Byrne.

Reader - Emma Fielding

blurb: In this new biography, best-selling author Paula Byrne explores the forces that shaped the interior life of Jane Austen, Britain's most beloved novelist: her father's religious faith, her other brothers' naval and military experiences, her relatives in the East and West Indies, her cousin who lived through the trauma of the French Revolution, her residence in Bath, her love of the seaside, her travels around England and her long struggle to
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
Greta Fisher
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
So Jane loved to dance, to shop, to sea bathe,to travel, to read, to play music, to tease and joke -she was a good walker and adored her older sister. She suffered from a phobia of childbirth and was deeply religious. She charmed men and was charmed in return. Paula Byrnes book feels as if the true
Jane Austin is described. Her novels will feel more real to me now.
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
The title is a taste pretentious, implying as it does that all other biographers have somehow faked us out, or at the very least "got it wrong" while Ms Byrne is the only one with the inside info. Uh-huh.
I can believe that the biographies published by family members may have had their own image that they wanted to present of an author who was on the crest of the wave when she died, but really, dear?

I was pleased to discover I wasn't mistaken in my belief that "Northanger Abbey" may have been the
Brian Willis
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really love the approach: rather than a strictly chronological narrative, this biography is more or less chronological, but is centered around a number of objects from the Austen family life and culture, most of which appear in the fiction, and all of which open an illuminating window into the life of Jane Austen and the world she knew.

By focusing on material objects, Byrne is able to dig deeper into life incidents more than most biographers of Austen. We only have slightly more primary docume
Brona's Books
Aug 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Byrne has created a delightful biography of Jane Austen with lots of insightful commentary about her novels by linking them to various objects that belonged to Jane, her family or were specific to her time. She tells us that each chapter will begin 'with a description of the image that sets its theme.'

From a water colour of Lyme Regis to Jane's vellum notebooks and a royalty cheque, Byrne
follows Austen on her travels, which were more extensive than is often recognised, and it sets her in contex
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a really excellent and enjoyable to read biography on Jane Austen. I highly recommend it.
Instead of going through Jane Austen's life chronologically, Byrne orients her biography around significant objects in Austen's life and relates them to themes in the story of Austen's life and her own fiction.
I really loved the insight into Austen's personality and her conception of herself as an author. I appreciated how Byrne debunked the idea of Jane Austen as this cynical, childless (and bitt
Sheila Majczan
Aug 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
This is one of those stories I read before I retired and began reviewing every book I read. I do want to reread all those stories which I did not review but as time has slipped by and I haven't done so, I just want to mark all those stories as "read" so I have a record of the true number of books in the JAFF sub-genre I have read. I am using the average rating at this time as I do not remember how I rated this story back when I read it. If I ever get around to rereading it I will look at my rati ...more
Jul 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fresh approach to a biography of Austen that uses objects connected to her in some way to inspire themed chapters. Great on detail but a bit speculative at times. Byrne is very confident that she knows Jane's thoughts. Well worth reading if you already have a general knowledge of Austen's life and works. ...more
Amanda Cora
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is very dense and sometimes hard to follow as the book as a whole isn’t chronological. Each chapter is chronological around a them though and it is super informative and helps gives context to Austen’s life and works.
Feb 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-books
I knew 99.9% of the stuff in here but Byrne managed to still make it interesting. <3
Reading Fury
Oct 31, 2020 rated it liked it
The challenge to present Jane Austen's life given the paucity are artifacts and the fact that many biographies are already out there is recognized. However, Byrne attempts to create a newer take on Jane by examining known events and the personal belongings known to be hers. It's a decent effort, but nothing new is learned and the premise of examining various objects can only amuse so much. If you knew nothing about Jane Austen, this might be a sort of primer, but if you have read any other biogr ...more
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Paula Byrne is a British author and biographer. She is married to writer Jonathan Bate, the Shakespeare scholar. ...more

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