Paula Byrne

All posts tagged Paula Byrne

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things – Paula Byrne

Published May 10, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things

What’s it all about?:

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.

In this new biography, bestselling author Paula Byrne (author of Perdita, Mad World) explores the forces that shaped the interior life of Britain’s most beloved novelist: her father’s religious faith, her mother’s aristocratic pedigree, her eldest brother’s adoption, her other brothers’ naval and military experiences, her relatives in the East and West Indies, her cousin who lived through the trauma of the French Revolution, the family’s amateur theatricals, the female novelists she admired, her residence in Bath, her love of the seaside, her travels around England and her long struggle to become a published author.

Byrne uses a highly innovative technique whereby each chapter begins from an object that conjures up a key moment or theme in Austen’s life and work—a silhouette, a vellum notebook, a topaz cross, a laptop writing box, a royalty cheque, a bathing machine, and many more.

The woman who emerges in this biography is far tougher, more socially and politically aware, and altogether more modern than the conventional picture of ‘dear Aunt Jane’ would allow. Published to coincide with the bicentenary of Pride and Prejudice, this lively and scholarly biography brings Austen dazzlingly into the twenty-first century.

What did I think?:

I’m a big fan of Ms Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility being my favourites, so I was excited to read this new biography by Paula Byrne, having enjoyed her previous biography about Evelyn Waugh. It’s a great read, written to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice (please see my previous post HERE) and one I’d highly recommend for any “Janeites” out there. What makes it more interesting for me is how it is structured, instead of the factual dryness you can sometimes get with biographies, the author chooses to talk about Austen’s life through objects that belonged to her. The pictures of the objects, in particular the two topaz crosses that Austen’s brother chose to give to her and Cassandra (her sister), are beautiful and it added that little extra bit of charm to the book as a whole.

I certainly found out a lot I didn’t know about Jane which I’m not going to spoil, but the overall picture that emerged of her was as an extremely witty, kind and intelligent person who loved her writing so much that she was prepared to dedicate her life to it, remaining single until her death (although she had no shortage of marriage proposals). What I also loved is the strength of her convictions. When she was invited to write a more “historical romance” novel she politely declined with the words “I must keep to my own style and go on in my own Way.”  She absolutely refused to be defined as that kind of writer and made it quite clear that she was a comic rather than a historical novelist. The author Walter Scott was also a fan and I think he summed her up to perfection in this review of her novel Emma:

“By keeping close to common incidents, and to such characters as occupy the ordinary walks of life, she had produced sketches of such spirit and originality, that we never miss the excitation which depends upon a narrative of uncommon events, arising from the consideration of minds, manners and sentiments, greatly above our own.”

The closeness of her relationship with her sister Cassandra was lovely to discover, and finding out about her extended family including her cousin Eliza (whom Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park is said to be based upon), was incredibly intriguing. There was certainly a host of exotic and surprising circumstances surrounding the Austen’s and their nearest and dearest. Finally, I think Paula Byrne did a fantastic job with this book, and I cannot wait to see what and whom she delves into next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


WWW Wednesday #1

Published May 8, 2013 by bibliobeth

WWW Wednesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Click on the image to get to her blog!

To join in you need to answer 3 questions..
•What are you currently reading?
•What did you recently finish reading?
•What do you think you’ll read next?

Click on the book covers to take you to a link to find out more!

What are you currently reading?


I’ve been looking forward to this book for ages, (I’m a big fan of Ms Austen) and it was bought as a birthday present for me by my sister ChrissiReads, and although I’m only thirty pages through, I’m loving it already.

What did you recently finish reading?


I recently finished this novel, the March release for the Waterstones Eleven debut authors. I thought it was a great book apart from the ending! You can find my review HERE.

What do you think you’ll read next?


Looking forward to this one! My second foray into the world of John Green…. (I know he has a lot of fans).

Please feel free to leave your WWW Wednesday’s. Happy reading everyone!!

Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead – Paula Byrne

Published February 3, 2013 by bibliobeth


Whats it all about?:

Evelyn Waugh was already famous when “Brideshead Revisited” was published in 1945. Written at the height of the war, the novel was, he admitted, of no “immediate propaganda value.” Instead, it was the story of a household, a family and a journey of religious faith–an elegy for a vanishing world and a testimony to a family he had fallen in love with a decade earlier.

The Lygons of Madresfield were every bit as glamorous, eccentric and compelling as their counterparts in “Brideshead Revisited.” William Lygon, Earl Beauchamp, was a warmhearted, generous and unconventional father whose seven children adored him. When he was forced to flee the country by his scheming brother-in-law, his traumatised children stood firmly by him, defying not only the mores of the day but also their deeply religious mother.

In this engrossing biography, Paula Byrne takes an innovative approach to her subject, setting out to capture Waugh through the friendships that mattered most to him. She uncovers a man who, far from the snobbish misanthrope of popular caricature, was as loving and as complex as the family that inspired him. This brilliantly original biography unlocks for the first time the extent to which Waugh’s great novel encoded and transformed his own experiences. In so doing, it illuminates the loves and obsessions that shaped his life, and brings us inevitably to the secret that dared not speak its name.

What did I think?:

I’m a bit of a beginner with Evelyn Waugh, I have to admit. Up until a year ago I hadn’t read anything by him but always meant to, and I’ve now read Black Mischief which I didn’t particularly love, and Brideshead Revisited which I did! This book is primarily about the Lygon family who were a great inspiration for Waugh in his writing of Brideshead. I don’t think its compulsory to have read the novel before reading this book, but I think it helps.

Most of the characters in Brideshead are a mish-mash of people Waugh has encountered in his life and with the Lygons, you can definitely see the similarities. Its interesting to realise that some parts of the novel Waugh actually toned down with respect to Lord Marchmain and his homosexuality. On finishing Mad World, I actually felt a bit sad, as it seems like Waugh was slightly misunderstood. Yes, he was no angel, and prone to artistic moody temperaments, but from diaries and letters from his friends it seemed like he was popular, funny and well-loved. Looking forward to reading and appreciating more Waugh in the future.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art