Kirkus Reviews Real Jane Austen (Byrne)

January 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm (books, jane austen) (, , , , , , )

Two weeks before publication, those of us without a subscription to Kirkus can read a book’s review. Hard to tell, really, whether the unnamed reviewer of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is enthusiastic or slightly bored.

real austenWhat makes me say that? The very first sentence: “For Austen obsessives, this latest study offers a few flashes of revelation amid long stretches of minutiae.”

Obsessives?!? {must say, I rather resent such a word}

Long stretches of minutiae?

I wrote of liking the progression through the life of Mary Delany in Molly Peacock’s The Paper Garden (highly recommended!); and really appreciated the idea of a focus on objects as a way to talk about Austen’s life (granted, the “facts” are well-known).

That “she [Austen] was more worldly than many might suspect” elicits an ‘of course’ response from me. Even those stuck in a small village had news from the “outside” – via papers, letters, visitors.  But I must hold judgement in the value of Byrne’s supposition that “the author was ‘a very well-travelled woman’…” VERY well-travelled? Certainly not to the degree of the Smiths & Goslings, with their sometimes lengthy trips to the Continent, never mind frequent travel through much of southern England and several branchings-off into Wales. Young Edward Austen (Emma’s eventual husband, and son of James Austen – Jane’s eldest brother) does not seem to have had half the opportunity of young Emma to learn languages and travel abroad.

In general, how does Byrne measure “well-travelled”?

To comments culled from Byrne that Austen “‘very much enjoyed shopping'” and “was ‘a dedicated follower of fashion’…”, I can only add that I see the same evidence in my Two Teens.

Can’t wait to read more about the “phobia” Byrne saddles Austen with, when it comes to childbirth. I think women held no illusions 200-years ago about childbirth, and just the amount of deaths associated with it within one’s circle of acquaintance should have given any woman pause. But does it really come across in the book as a ‘phobia’? Time will tell, once I’ve read it!

Do _I_ expect revelations? Hardly. The primary materials currently in use typically recycle the same “facts”. A lot about Paula Byrne’s new biography will depend on presentation and writing.

I expect my copy in early February…

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