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

By

HarperPress 380pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

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

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter