Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Real Jane Austen

 Whenever a new biography of Jane Austen comes along I'm on it like a car bonnet! Particularly if it illuminates aspects of the novels I'd not thought about before. Paula Byrne's The Real Jane Austen - A Life in Small Things has some very intriguing interpretations of Mansfield Park.

Byrne's theory that Tom Bertram, eldest son and heir, who is not romantically interested in women, or marriage and is fond of theatricals may be homosexual is not conclusive, but it is an interesting interpretation and of course, if he never has children Fanny and Edmund may inherit Mansfield Park.

The suggestion that Mrs Norris is a kleptomaniac because of her eagerness to whisk away the green baize curtain to her own cottage is backed up by the well-documented scandal in Austen's own family where her aunt, the wealthy Mrs Leigh-Perrot allegedly stole a card of lace from a millinery shop in Bath and faced jail, deportation or the gallows.

I knew the business with the locking and unlocking of gates at Sotherton was sexual imagery but I'd never before thought that Maria's stepping outside of the cultivated garden into the wilderness with Henry Crawford foreshadows her own 'ruin' when he seduces her.

This book has made me want to to re-read Mansfield Park and that is the best recommendation for any new biography of Jane Austen.

By the way, there is some very amusing and perceptive Austen criticism on the wonderful Bitch in a Bonnet blog.


Audrey said...

My copy just arrived today! I'm looking forward to it.

Nadia said...

This sounds like a fun and interesting read. I'm wanting to read Mansfield Park lately, because I saw that Lynn Shepherd wrote a book titled, Murder at Mansfield. I'm not an Austen expert, but I would definitely be interested in learning more about her. Great post! Thanks!

Anbolyn said...

I've never read Mansfield Park all the way through, but this makes me want to!

Bonnie said...

I have had my eye on this biography for a bit. I don't think I've read Mansfield Park. I will be adding it to my list.

Sunday Taylor said...

I am looking forward to getting this biography about Austen. Sounds like an interesting take on her life and her books. My Jane Austen collection is growing!

Mystica said...

Sounds such a good one!

Susan said...

I had been keeping an eye for this book here. I just picked up Mansfield Park to read - the only Jane Austen novel I haven't read yet. Now I will have to see if I can fin The Real Jane Austen! Nice review,and interesting interpretation, isn't it? Did you like Mansfield Park when you read it?

Shelley said...

I went straight from this page to my library's "reserve this book" page--thanks.

The more I see of Downton, the more I admire Austen. Her "small world" was so much larger than theirs.

Carolyn said...

Hmm, I've never thought of Tom Bertram being gay. I just thought he was enjoying being a bachelor without wanting to be tied down (when he leaves Mansfield to go to the races instead of staying to flirt more with Mary Crawford), and Henry Crawford enjoyed acting too. I actually used to wish Fanny would end up with him instead of Edmund because he's a reformed bad boy at the end and I thought he'd be a nice balance between Edmund and Henry! Of course, that idea did have something to do with James Purefoy playing him in the movie... ;) I'm reading Mansfield Park now, so maybe I'll have to check this book out.

Vintage Reading said...

Audrey, hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Nadia, MP is my favourite Austen. Possibly the most complex, but very rewarding, if you do read it I hope you post!

Anbolyn, you MUST read MP!

Bonnie, it's a great biog, hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, yes I've got two or three shelves of Austen novels and biogs. Very proud of them!

Mystica, one of the best!

Susan, MP is now my favourite Austen, although when I was very young it was P&P and then in my thirties it was Persuasion. I think a different Austen suits you at each decade of your life!

Shelley, the more I read JA the more genius I find in her. As you say, her 'small world' was huge. Not a fan of Downton.

Carolyn, yes, there is no real evidence that TB is gay but it's an interesting idea. I wanted Fanny to marry Henry Crawford. I have a soft spot for him! Do post your thoughts on MP.