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Who was the real Jane Austen? Overturning the traditional portrait of the author as conventional and genteel, bestseller Paula Byrne's landmark biography reveals the real woman behind the books. Claire Tomalin's biography of Jane Austen was published in 1997 and, although it contained little new research, sold more than 20,000 copies in paperback. Paula Byrne - an internationally renowned Jane Austen scholar and a best-selling biographer - has uncovered a very different Jane Austen to the Jane of popular imagination. This Jane, revealed in the first biography written for a general readership but based on the most up-to-date scholarship - is a woman deeply immersed in the culture around her, but also far ahead of her time in her independence and tough-mindedness. Throughout, this book gives the sense of Austen as an astute commentator on human nature in general and her own age in particular, and above all as a writer of independence and ambition. Each chapter is focussed on a key moment in Austen's life: eg. when her handicapped brother is removed from the family, when her exotic cousin Eliza arrives in the family circle, when her aunt was arrested for shoplifting, her time alone in London. The book also gives detailed attention to the novels themselves. After this book, no longer can Austen be viewed as someone who did not engage with the great political events of her time. How many lovers of her work are aware that the Prince Regent kept a debauched household down the road from her village, that she was related by marriage to other major literary figures of the time such as the libertine Gothic novelist William Beckford and her favourite poet George Crabbe. The book will also argue that her assumed 'genteel' sense of humour could also be savage, highly subversive irony.
About the Author
Paula Byrne is the author of Perdita, a highly acclaimed biography of eighteenth-century celebrity Mary Robinson. A regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and other publications, she lives in Warwickshire, England, with her three children and her husband, the critic and biographer Jonathan Bate.