We firmly believe that a writer’s work speaks for itself. Still, who doesn’t love learning about the person behind the masterpiece? This week, we delved into two new biographies that illuminate the lives of famous authors.

The Real Jane Austen As any Jane Austen fan will tell you, the woman was a master of wit, detail and nuance. Paula Byrne’s unconventionally organized new biography follows suit, eschewing chronology and instead focusing on the key moments, objects and interactions that influenced the brilliant writer’s greatly misunderstood life. From the topaz cross her brother gave her as a child, to the gossip-filled notebooks of her teenage years, to the East Indian shawl that indirectly inspired a character in Mansfield Park, each chapter follows one different, telling “small thing”--and ultimately reveals a woman far more worldly than she’s traditionally given credit for.

American Isis Sure, we all know the Sylvia Plath who wrote beautiful, tortured poetry and tragically took her own life. But what about the Plath who loved celebrity culture, and in turn craved approval and ached for the limelight? Such is the woman who emerges in Carl Rollyson’s American Isis, the first book to benefit from a new Ted Hughes (a.k.a. Mr. Sylvia Plath) archive at the British Library. Rollyson’s primary interest is the high-pressure life that shaped this “Marilyn Monroe of modern literature.” (Think difficult mothers and jilted lovers.) But a deep admiration for Plath’s work also runs deep.

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