Genius of Jane Austen – Paula Byrne

I’ve always been a bookworm. I had to be chased out into the playground when all I really wanted to do was read (I was sometimes found hiding under the tables…) when I was at primary school. I absolutely love the fact that I am fortunate enough to be offered the chance to read lots of new books but sometimes, just sometimes, I wish the pace of publishing would slow down a bit. I miss the days when I could take the time to re-read some of my old favourites – Lord of the Rings, Enchanted April or, the ones I used to read about every other year on average, the novels of Jane Austen.

9780008225650Jane Austen is one of those authors whose works are familiar to a large proportion of the population. They come up on many an English Literature curriculum, are widely read for pleasure and, interestingly, are often adapted for film and tv. I’ve even managed to get Rob to watch some of these adaptations (although he does refer to Sense and Sensibility as ‘the one where she sobs into her harpsichord…’) which is a bit of an achievement. These adaptations are the focus of the latter part of Paula Byrne’s book (itself an expanded reissue of an earlier, 2003, book on Austen and theatre) and I was reminded of both books and the films themselves.  Not just the BBC series or the Hollywood films but also the homages – to be honest it has been a few years since I read Emma but I reckon I watched Clueless sometime in the last six months…

The main part of the book looks at Austen’s relationship with the theatre – one I’d sum up as both knowledgable and warm. Because I have never had to study any of the books (not since my English ‘O’ level in 1981) I wasn’t aware of a school of critical thought which assumed that Austen disapproved of theatre – I was actually surprised to hear this since, like Byrne, my reading of the books themselves always suggested that she enjoyed this form of entertainment. The additional research done by Byrne, an Austen scholar, backs up her opinion – letters are full of mention of trips to theatres in London, Bath and other towns. I avoided reading critical works when possible at University – if they’d all been this readable and convincing I would probably have read more!



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