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Jane Austen

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, the seventh child of a country clergyman and his wife, George and Cassandra Leigh Austen.

 

She was primarily educated at home, benefiting from her father’s extensive library and the schoolroom atmosphere created by Mr. Austen’s live-in pupils.

Jane Austen, one of England’s foremost novelists, she was never publicly acknowledged as a writer during her lifetime. She is a world renowned English author, her realism and biting social commentary has gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Her fans around the world number in millions today. Her timeless works comprise of just six complete novels.

As a child Austen began writing comic stories, now referred to as the Juvenilia.  Her first mature work, composed when she was about 19, was a novella, Lady Susan, written in epistolary form (as a series of letters).  This early fiction was preserved by her family but was not published until long after her death. In her early twenties Austen wrote the novels that later became Sense and Sensibility (first called ‘Elinor and Marianne) and Pride and Prejudice (originally ‘First Impressions’).  Her father sent a letter offering the manuscript of ‘First Impressions’ to a publisher soon after it was finished in 1797, but his offer was rejected by return post. Austen continued writing, revising ‘Elinor and Marianne’ and completing a novel called ‘Susan’ (later to become Northanger Abbey).

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
Angry people are not always wise.
(Pride and Prejudice)
I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!
How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!
When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.
(Pride and Prejudice)

Those who do not complain are never pitied
It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before’
‘If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.’
(Emma)
Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies.

During the early 1800s when Jane Austen was composing and publishing her works, fictional novels were frowned upon by some segments of society, and novels written by women were especially shunned. In fact, many of Austen’s works went to print with no name on the title page to avoid linking her to the negative stigma of female authorship. Although anonymity and lack of recognition and fame characterized her life, Jane Austen’s novels have since become celebrated, enjoyed, and studied for their humorous and pointed observations of societal life, lively character interaction, and detailed style. Austen’s perfectionism and attention to detail caused her to edit and rewrite each of her novels at least twice. Jane was part of the ‘Romantic Movement of the time which was a counter to the conservative movement.

In 1803, Austen sold ‘Susan’ for 10 to a publisher, who promised early publication, but the manuscript languished in his archives until it was repurchased a year before Austen’s death for the price the publisher had paid her. When Austen was 25 years old, her father retired, and she moved with their parents to Bath. During the five years she lived in Bath (1801-1806), Austen began one novel, The Watsons, which she never completed.

Austen had rejected suitor Harris Bigg Wither at the last minute and never ended up marrying, but still she expresses a keen grasp of the traditional female role and the ensuing hopes and heartbreaks with her memorable protagonists including Emma Woodhouse, Fanny Price, Catherine Morland, Anne Elliot, and Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. Writing in the romantic vein, Austen was also a realist and has been lauded for her form and structure of plot and intensely detailed characters who struggle with the issues of class-consciousness versus individualism.

‘It sometimes happens that a woman is handsomer at twenty-nine than she was ten years before’

Austen’s second notable romance occurred while the family was vacationing on the coast at Sidmouth in Devon in the summer of 1801. Austen apparently met and fell in love with a young clergyman, who made plans to meet the family again later in their travels (a good sign that he planned to propose). However, he died unexpectedly before he could join them. The incident strengthened the bond between the two sisters, as Cassandra had earlier lost her fiance. And Jane Austen did not marry in her whole life.

July 1814, when Sir Walter Scott’s first novel Waverly was published, Jane Austen wrote the following in a letter to her niece:

‘Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has fame and profit enough as a poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths. I do not like him, and do not mean to like Waverly if I can help it but fear I must.’

Today Jane Austen is a much more popular author than her contemporary Sir Walter Scott.

Every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies.

Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”, according to one biographer. Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family.

On April 27, 1817 she wrote her will, naming her sister Cassandra as her heir. Austen died in the early hours of July 18, 1817, and a few days later was buried in Winchester Cathedral.  She was 41 years old. Historically, many have accepted Addison’s Disease (John F.Kennedy suffered with the same disease) or Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as the primary cause of her death though new research suggests it may have been disseminated tuberculosis passed through exposure to cattle or unpasteurized milk , an illness more common in Austen’s time than today.  Interestingly, Austen’s gravestone, which is visited by hundreds of admirers each year, does not even mention that she was an author.

Literary Works
Novels

Sense and Sensibility
Pride and Prejudice
Mansfield Park
Emma
Northanger Abbey
Persuasion

Short fiction
Lady Susan

Unfinished fiction
The Watsons
Sanditon
Other works
Sir Charles Grandison
Plan of a Novel
Poems
Prayers
Letters

Juvenilia
(Three Volumes)

Critic Gary Kelly observes:
“Jane Austen is one of the few novelists in world literature who is regarded as a ‘classic’ and yet is widely read.” Though her novels were by no means autobiographical, the facts of her life do shed light on her fiction and more importantly, they offer aspiring writers one model of how great works of literature are created.

 

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