By Maureen McCarthy
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“The Genius of Jane Austen” by Paula Byrne; Harper Perennial (334 pages, $16.99)
Jane Austen is often depicted at her writing desk, cloistered among family. But the lady liked to get out and have a good time.
Austen’s passion for the theater helps explain why so many of her stories wind up on stage and screen, says biographer Paula Byrne.
Through letters, Byrne tracks Austen from the amateur theatricals staged by her older brothers to London’s Covent Garden.
All this eventually shows up in her work.
Byrne connects the dots in a way that brings the era’s dramatic scene to life. Look, Byrne says, and you can see Austen taking cues from “The Rivals.”
Read “Mansfield Park,” and there’s the Bertram family putting on a family theatrical.
This book was published 15 years ago under a different title but has been renamed and repackaged as a companion to Byrne’s biography “The Real Jane Austen.”
It offers substance for students of theater history, excerpts for Janeites and a new Hollywood ending that explains why “Clueless” works and Gwenyth Paltrow’s “Emma” doesn’t.