The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things
We readers of Jane Austen may feel we know the author by her characters and novels, but factors such as world events and ordinary daily activities also influenced what she wrote. Paula Byrne’s new Austen biography enlarges Jane’s literary world by connecting her everyday life with items and accessories used by the people of her time. Each chapter opens with a reproduction and description of an item, such as a “vellum notebook,” and its place in their daily lives. What exactly was that oddly named “bathing machine”? Why were “ivory miniatures” treasured with emotion and passed down the generations? And what on earth was a Regency “laptop,” two centuries ago? A fascinating prologue of the Austen family surpasses the staid family version of Jane living in a closed world and shows how much of the world she really knew. In this work which interweaves the timeline of war, deprivation and a charitable clergyman father who took in society’s dispossessed and let them live in the family, we see the depth of Jane’s knowledge of humanity. This unique and enjoyable addition to the Austen world is a truly absorbing read. Highly recommended.