The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne - review by Bharat Tandon

Bharat Tandon

Material Girl

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things


HarperPress 380pp £25

Introducing his pioneering Oxford edition of Jane Austen’s letters in 1932, R W Chapman felt the need to make a concession to readerly taste:

the enchantment which enthusiasts have sometimes found in these letters will not be universally admitted. It will be admitted by those only in whose own experience little things – like nicknames, or family jokes, or the arrangement of the furniture – are inseparable from the deeper joys, and even from the deeper sorrows of life; and by those only who find wisdom and humanity in this correspondence, as well as – or in spite of – its devotion to minutiae.

The fact that Chapman felt the need to apologise at all tells a story about Austen’s literary canonisation through the latter part of the 19th century – a process in which there often appears to have been a trade-off between popular appreciation and acknowledgement of her seriousness. Whether it was

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