Jane Austen

(1775-1817), one of England’s foremost novelists, was never publicly acknowledged as a writer during her lifetime.

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 Austen. Her closest friend was her only sister, Cassandra, almost three years her senior.

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

Though she lived a quiet life, she had unusual access to the greater world, primarily through her brothers. Francis (Frank) and Charles, officers in the Royal Navy, served on ships around the world and saw action in the Napoleonic Wars. Henry, who eventually became a clergyman like his father and his brother James, was an officer in the militia and later a banker. Austen visited Henry in London, where she attended the theater, art exhibitions, and social events and also corrected proofs of her novels. Her brother Edward was adopted by wealthy cousins, the Knights, becoming their heir and later taking their name. On extended visits to Godmersham, Edward’s estate in Kent, Austen and her sister took part in the privileged life of the landed gentry, which is reflected in all her fiction.

Early Works: 1787-1798
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). 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.



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