Book Review: The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne

book - The Real Jane AustenIn this fascinating book on the life of Jane Austen, Paula Byrne has curated a museum exhibition through text, using objects to tell the story. She focuses on key moments in Austen’s life, painting a ‘real’ picture of the author (whom we tend to imagine sitting demurely in a drawing room) as a well-travelled, theatre-loving, fashionable, ambitious woman, with a spirit of adventure and a love of the sea, who observed, at close-hand, the dangers of political revolution…    Continue reading

What makes a good book ‘good’?

booksWhat are the characteristics that you look for in a book? What makes the difference between a book you just ‘enjoyed’ and a book that, when finished, you immediately want to lend to everyone you know? Here are my top ten features of a good book… Of course, these are highly subjective, so please do comment and let me know what it is that you look for in a book. And I should add that this list really only works with fiction, and I reserve the right to change my mind!    Continue reading

What lies behind the mysterious black veil?

gothic novel - Catherine readingHave you ever read a novel by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens and wondered what kinds of books they were reading at the time? Well there is actually a considerable amount known about the reading habits of some of our most well-loved writers. One source of information is the works themselves, and Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, is a fine example. The protagonist, Catherine Moorland, reads gothic novels, a popular genre at the turn of the nineteenth century. Catherine is particularly engrossed with The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe.    Continue reading

Film Review – Jane Austen’s Comedy

Scene from Love and Friendship film

Sir James Martin is Austen’s most foolish caricature

I must admit that although I love Jane Austen and have read all her novels, I hadn’t ever attempted her novella Lady Susan, partly because it is written almost entirely through letters. I’m highly grateful to Radio 4 that I even knew about this film (entitled Love and Friendship) based on the novella, as I haven’t seen any advertisements for it. I spent a long time looking up every cinema within reach of Cardiff and was relieved to discover that it would be shown at Chapter Arts Centre.    Continue reading

Three Great Authoresses: Brontë, Austen and Eliot

austen eliot bronteCharlotte Brontë, Jane Austen and George Eliot are three of Britain’s greatest women writers, but which one is your favourite? Which one do you think is the greatest? You can add your own vote to the poll at the end of this post.

I attended an event at the Stratford Literature Festival last weekend, with a panel of three biographers. Paula Byrne (The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things), Val Dodd (George Eliot: An Intellectual Life) and Claire Harman (Charlotte Brontë: A Life) each presented the case for their favourite authoress.    Continue reading

The Power of Poetry on Prescription

Emergency PoetDo you read as a form of escapism? Or perhaps you read to calm yourself down at the end of a busy day? Stressed, Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind is an anthology of poems selected specifically to help those who are going through tough times (a form of “bibliotherapy”). I attended a fascinating event organised as part of the Stratford Literature Festival, to hear more about this concept. Dr Paula Byrne (academic and founder of ReLit charity), Dr Andrew Schuman (a medical doctor and poet) and Deborah Alma (aka The Emergency Poet) discussed the growing trend in taking literature seriously for its medicinal value in relation to mental health.    Continue reading

Bath Literature Festival: Part 2 – Jane Austen

Jane Austen CentreAfter hearing Sebastian Faulks being interviewed about his work, I headed out into Bath to explore, excited to discover the famous sites as mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels. I headed North, up Milsom Street, where the Tilney family had lodgings in Northanger Abbey, and was pleased to discover that there is now a Waterstones there. I think Jane would have been pleased.    Continue reading