cover image The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood

The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood

Paula Byrne. Harper Perennial, $16.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-267449-4

Biographer Byrne (The Real Jane Austen) explores Austen’s relationship to the theater by placing her letters and novels within the context of popular Georgian-era dramas. While readers naturally associate Austen with the novel, Byrne argues that her use of devices such as comic misunderstandings and dramatic entrances and exits comes from theatrical tradition. Byrne provides a close reading of Austen’s various works, with a special emphasis on Mansfield Park’s play-related plotline. She draws comparisons between Austen’s novels and popular plays of her day, matching Sense and Sensibility’s satire to Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals and noting settings and character types Mansfield Park shares with David Garrick’s The Clandestine Marriage. Byrne also explores adaptations of Austen’s works for stage and screen, notably A.A. Milne’s Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Amy Heckerling’s Clueless. At odds with scholarship that casts Austen as provincial and perhaps stodgy, Byrne presents an Austen immersed in her time’s popular entertainment, visiting Bath’s Theatre Royal and London’s Covent Garden, among others, and commenting astutely on performances in her correspondence, from which Byrne quotes liberally. While Byrne’s language skews academic, any Austen devotee should appreciate the thorough analysis of the novels and the crediting of previously overlooked influences. (July)