I saw this in Dymocks and had to have it although I do wonder how many biographies one person needs to own. This is an interesting way of presenting a person’s life. Byrne has found a series of objects (meant to be meaningful to Austen) and then used them as a stepping off point to write about Austen’s life. The objects include, a shawl, the vellum notebooks, the topaz crosses, and many more. Not all of the objects were owned by Austen, but they affected her in someway. For example, one chapter is on Bathing Machines. As she writes in the Prologue …
Both her world and her novels can be brought alive through the texture of things, the life of objects.
I think Byrne occasionally makes assumptions about events in Austen’s life translating into the novels and I don’t think the evidence is there. For example,
There can be no doubt that Captain Harville’s carpentry is both a compliment to Frank and a family joke. By acknowledging the allusion after Jane’s death, Admiral Austen is giving her readers warrant to make connections between the people his sister knew and the characters she created. By implication, he is also licensing us to make links between her novels and the places she went to (and those she heard about), not to mention the historical events through which she lived.
I am not convinced. Also, in ‘The Family Portrait’ chapter she states ‘In Emma, Frank Churchill is adopted into the family of a rich but childless couple, and Jane Fairfax, an orphan, is bought up with the Dixons.’ we all know she is raised by the Campbells (and the Campbell daughter marries Mr Dixon). However, these are my only negatives.
The chapter on Lord Mansfield is fascinating (who knew there was a Lord Mansfield who was anti- slavery?). This biography has re-ignited my interest in Jane Austen and I want to read the novels again in the light of her findings.
This is an easy read (no academic jargon) and worthy to be included in the library of any Jane Austen fan.
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