Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What-I'm-Reading-Wednesday: The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne is a wonderfully robust social history of the life of one of England's most treasured writers. Byrne explores how Jane Austen became Jane Austen, and the complexities of becoming a published female author during the early nineteenth century using eighteen objects connected with Austen, rather than following a typical biographical style. She challenges the common notion that Austen was a spinster, a homebody, and lacked the life experiences of some of her well-traveled and typically male contemporaries.

Many of the objects chosen to tell the Jane Austen story seem at first strange choices, some as pedestrian as seat cushions and a hat. Others are far more intimate items from the Austen family like portraits, a letter game, a lace card, and a fictitious marriage certificate penned by Austen herself. Austen is brought to vibrant life through the history and analysis of these special items and heirlooms. Byrne presents Austen as witty, smart, worldly, and a shrewd businesswoman, traits not often used to describe her.

Though not a narrative, and certainly very different from typical hagiographical biographies, this fun, interesting social history by Byrne is a must-read for any Austen fan. The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is currently on display on the New Arrivals Shelf on the main floor of the Library. You can also request The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things through the catalog. Click on the "Availability" link on the catalog record, then click on the yellow "Request" button. Log in using your 14-digit Library barcode number (located on your University ID), and your last name. You will then be able to select your pick-up location. The Library will notify you via email when your book has arrived for pick-up. If you need assistance with this process, please contact the Circulation Desk at 301-687-4395.

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