Biography: Jane Austen

Jane Austen is the author of some of the most famous contributions to literature, such as, ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Much like her novels she led a charmed life, elements of which can be seen clearly through her work.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” (Pride and Prejudice). Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) was an English author who centred her novels around life in the 18th century where the priorities of young women were courtship and then marriage. Austen however, never married.

Much of Jane Austen’s life has been unknown to biographers and the majority of it has been learnt through letters she wrote to her sister.

Born in Steventon, Hampshire to Reverend George Austen and Cassandra Leigh, Jane Austen was the second daughter and seventh child of eight children. Growing up, Jane was tutored at home and was encouraged to write for amusement and at the age of 14, wrote her first novel ‘Love and Friendship’. She enjoyed herself with her family, and was extremely close to her sister Cassandra.

Jane’s father always supported her writing and bought her paper and a writing desk, and even tried to help her get a publisher.

As a young woman she enjoyed dancing and attending balls, as well as the countryside both of which are appreciated frequently in her novels. She lived in Hampshire until 1801 aged twenty five, at which point her father took early retirement and she and her sister moved with their parents to Bath. Having loved living in the countryside, Jane struggled with the business and congestion of Bath. Her life took a difficult turn prompted by her father’s death in 1805 after which she, her sister and mother faced financial difficulties and relied on the support of her brothers.

During these strained times however, Jane did fall in love whilst on holiday in the West Country but this happiness was cut short when the young man died. This upset Jane but later she accepted a marriage proposal from a wealthy land owner Harris Big-Wither but changed her mind the next morning.

Eventually, Jane moved to Southampton near her naval brothers with her mother and sister and in July 1809 they moved to a cottage in the village of Chawton which is where it is believed she was at her happiest. Having taken a break from writing, Jane resumed her hobby and in 1811 anonymously published ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Encouraged by its success, Jane revised her novel ‘First Impressions’, better known as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and published her “own darling child” in January 1813.

Jane Austen’s writing focused on middle-class life and portrayed it with wit and a deep sense of understanding. They all revolve around families who live in the countryside where marriage is the sole and ultimate aim of all the women. More importantly, she expresses how marriage determines their status in society. However because they did not conform to Romantic and Victorian literary expectations, he writing was not very popular while she was alive.

With six major publications and two novels unfinished Jane died on the 18th July 1817 in Winchester aged 47, due to poor health. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral. “It is a satisfaction to me to think that [she is] to lie in a Building she admired so much,” Cassandra Austen wrote later. Cassandra destroyed many of her sister’s letters; one hundred sixty survived but none written earlier than her tenth birthday.

One of her unfinished novels ‘Sanditon’ for which she wrote twelve chapters was published in 1925.

After her death it was Jane Austen’s brother Henry who publicly revealed her as the author, and her books received excellent reviews. In his testament to ‘Emma’ Sir Walter Scott, wrote in his journal of March 14, 1826: “[Miss Austen] had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I have ever met with.”

In 1870 ‘J.E. Austen-Leigh’s Memoir’ was published, and so a cult formed.

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