Paula Byrne is the critically acclaimed author of five biographies, including Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice, The Real Jane Austen, and Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead. She lives in Oxford, England, with her husband, the academic and biographer Jonathan Bate.
"Vividly persuasive.... The Real Jane Austen is excellent... particularly on the dissonant topics of theater and slavery....Byrnes section on slavery is better still, establishing links between Austen's protagonists and contemporary figures, her pointed references and contemporary events, which highlight her supposedly oblivious fiction's sharp views on the slave trade."--New York Times Book Review
Byrne (Jane Austen and the Theatre) promises a novel addition to the body of scholarship on Jane Austen's life. Rather than taking a cradle-to-grave approach, Byrne begins each essay in this collection with an image and description of an object of particular importance to Austen, which leads into a discussion of how these items influenced her life and informed her work. This premise is stretched thin at some points-it is arguable whether a carriage, for example, ever profoundly affected Austen-but it is an engaging narrative technique and effectively persuades that Austen intentionally drew inspiration from life in order to add what was at that time an innovative realism and verisimilitude to her novels (e.g., a familiarity with the navy and life in India, noteworthy in someone generally considered a quiet spinster). Byrne contends Austen's authorial focus upon an object is a clue to readers that events of emotional importance are afoot. Less convincing are Byrne's arguments that other Austen biographers and Austen's own family were often mistaken about her character or writerly intentions. Verdict A rarer approach to deciphering the meaning of Austen's work through her life. Recommended for Austen fans, those committed to close reading, literature lovers, and those enthralled by discussions of authorial intention.-Megan Hodge, Chesterfield Cty. P.L., Richmond (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.