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Books  >>  Biography

Paula Byrne

The Real Jane Austen

Paula Byrne The Real Jane Austen A Life In Small Things
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Main description:

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things offers a startlingly original look at the revered writer through a variety of key moments, scenes, and objects in her life and work. Going beyond previous traditional biographies which have traced Austen’s daily life from Steventon to Bath to Chawton to Winchester, Paula Byrne’s portrait—organized thematically and drawn from the most up-to-date scholarship and unexplored sources—explores the lives of Austen’s extended family, friends, and acquaintances. Through their absorbing stories, we view Austen on a much wider stage and discover unexpected aspects of her life and character. Byrne transports us to different worlds—the East Indies and revolutionary Paris—and different events—from a high society scandal to a petty case of shoplifting, She follows Austen on her extensive travels, setting her in contexts both global and English, urban and rural, political and historical, social and domestic—wider perspectives of vital and still under-estimated importance to her creative life.

Literary scholarship has revealed that letters and tokens in Austen’s novel’s often signal key turning points in the unfolding narrative. This groundbreaking biography explores Jane's own story following the same principle. As Byrne reveals, small things in the writer's world—a scrap of paper, a simple gold chain, an ivory miniature, a bathing machine—hold significance in her emotional and artistic development. The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things introduces us to a woman deeply immersed in the world around her, yet far ahead of her time in her independence and ambition; to an author who was an astute commentator on human nature and the foibles of her own age. Rich and compelling, it is a fresh, insightful, and often surprising portrait of an artist and a vivid evocation of the complex world that shaped her.

Review quote:

“[Byrne] breathes yet more life into Austen and her works by considering the objects that populated her days…. [The] thematic approach offers a revealing picture of Austen and a lively social history….paints a fresh and vivid picture of an inimitable woman.”

Review quote:

“A fresh behind-the-scenes look at an author who, for many, stands behind only Shakespeare as the greatest English writer.”

Review quote:

“A vivacious portrait…Byrne’s Austen emerges as a worldly woman, profoundly enmeshed in a wider world than she’s often acknowledged to occupy. This is an Austen with a sense for the political as well as for the finer points of sensibility.”

Review quote:

“An excellent new biography…well-researched and entertaining…Byrne gives us a Jane Austen many readers may not recognize: a woman who enjoyed black humor and was well aware of the political scene of her time.”

Review quote:

“Biographer Paula Byrne has taken objects from Jane Austen’s real life and times and used them as if we were dropping in on Austen on any given day...a dynamic new biography in which Austen lives and breathes.”

Review quote:

“Brilliantly illuminating…riveting…Again and again…Byrne opens out Austen’s story with a novelist’s persistent probing of the evidence.”

Review quote:

“Byrne takes Austen seriously as a writer...[she] brings to life a woman of “wonderful exuberance and self-confidence,” of “firm opinions and strong passions.” Little wonder that every other man she meets seems to fall in love with her.”

Review quote:

“Byrne’s aim is to show how these objects, many of them reproduced in her book in lush color plates, reveal a much more cosmopolitan awareness

In The Real Jane Austen, acclaimed literary biographer Paula Byrne provides the most intimate and revealing portrait yet of a beloved but complex novelist.

Just as letters and tokens in Jane Austen’s novels often signal key turning points in the narrative, Byrne explores the small things – a scrap of paper, a gold chain, an ivory miniature – that held significance in Austen’s personal and creative life.

Byrne transports us to different worlds, from the East Indies to revolutionary Paris, and to different events, from a high society scandal to a case of petty shoplifting. In this ground-breaking biography,  Austen is set on a wider stage than ever before, revealing a well-traveled and politically aware writer – important aspects of her artistic development that have long been overlooked.

The Real Jane Austen is a fresh, compelling, and surprising biography of the author of some of our most enduring classic books – from Pride and Prejudice to Sense and Sensibility, Emma to Persuasion – and a vivid evocation of the world that shaped her.


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