Jane Austen Biography & Facts
Jane Austen (; 16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen's plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favourable social standing and economic security. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism. Her use of biting irony, along with her realism and social commentary, have earned her acclaim among critics and scholars.
With the publication of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), in her lifetime she achieved modest success and, as the books were published anonymously, little fame. She wrote two other novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began another, eventually titled Sanditon, but died before its completion. She also left behind three volumes of juvenile writings in manuscript, the short epistolary novel Lady Susan, and another unfinished novel, The Watsons.
Austen gained far more status after her death, and her six full-length novels have rarely been out of print. A significant transition in her posthumous reputation occurred in 1833, when her novels were republished in Richard Bentley's Standard Novels series, illustrated by Ferdinand Pickering, and sold as a set. They gradually gained wider acclaim and popular readership. In 1869, fifty-two years after her death, her nephew's publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced a compelling version of her writing career and supposedly uneventful life to an eager audience.
Austen has inspired a large number of critical essays and literary anthologies. Her novels have inspired many films, from 1940's Pride and Prejudice to more recent productions like Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Love & Friendship (2016).
Little biographical information about Jane Austen's life exists except the few letters that survived and the biographical notes her family members wrote. During her lifetime, Austen may have written as many as 3,000 letters, but only 161 survive. Her older sister Cassandra burned or destroyed the bulk of letters she received in 1843, to prevent their falling into the hands of relatives and ensuring that "younger nieces did not read any of Jane Austen's sometimes acid or forthright comments on neighbours or family members". Cassandra meant to protect the family's reputation from her sister's penchant for forthrightness; in the interest of tact she omitted details of family illnesses and unhappinesses.The first Austen biography was Henry Thomas Austen's 1818 "Biographical Notice". It appeared in a posthumous edition of Northanger Abbey, and included extracts from two letters, against the judgement of other family members. Details of Austen's life continued to be omitted or embellished in her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen, published in 1869, and in William and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh's biography Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters, published in 1913, all of which included additional letters. The legend the family and relatives created reflected their bias in favour of presenting the image of "good quiet Aunt Jane", the portrayal of a woman whose domestic situation was happy and whose family was the mainstay of her life. Modern biographers include details previously excised from the letters and family biographies, but Austen scholar Jan Fergus explains that the challenge is to avoid the presenting the opposite view – one of Austen languishing in periods of deep unhappiness who was "an embittered, disappointed woman trapped in a thoroughly unpleasant family".
Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, on 16 December 1775. She was born a month later than her parents expected; her father wrote of her arrival in a letter that her mother "certainly expected to have been brought to bed a month ago". He added that the newborn infant was "a present plaything for Cassy and a future companion". The winter of 1776 was particularly harsh and it was not until 5 April that she was baptised at the local church with the single name Jane.
George Austen (1731–1805), served as the rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon and at nearby Deane. He came from an old, respected, and wealthy family of wool merchants. As each generation of eldest sons received inheritances, the wealth was divided, and George's branch of the family fell into poverty. He and his two sisters were orphaned as children and had to be taken in by relatives. His sister Philadelphia went to India to find a husband and George entered St John's College, Oxford on a fellowship, where he most likely met Cassandra Leigh (1739–1827). She came from the prominent Leigh family; her father was rector at All Souls College, Oxford, where she grew up among the gentry. Her eldest brother James inherited a fortune and large estate from his great-aunt Perrot, with the only condition that he change his name to Leigh-Perrot.The two were engaged, probably around 1763 when they exchanged miniatures. George had received the living for the Steventon parish from the wealthy husband of his second cousin, Thomas Knight. They married on 26 April 1764 at St Swithin's Church in Bath, by licence, in a simple ceremony, two months after Cassandra's father died. Their income was modest, with George's small per annum living; Cassandra brought to the marriage the expectation of a small inheritance at the time of her mother's death.The Austens took up temporary residence at the nearby Deane rectory until Steventon, a 16th-century house in disrepair, underwent necessary renovations. Cassandra gave birth to three children while living at Deane: James in 1765, George in 1766, and Edward in 1767. Her custom was to keep an infant at home for several months and then place it with Elizabeth Littlewood, a woman living nearby to nurse and raise for twelve to eighteen months.
In 1768, the family finally took up residence in Steventon. Henry was the first child to be born there, in 1771. At about this time, Cassandra could no longer ignore the signs that little George was developmentally disabled. He was subject to seizures, may have been deaf and mute, and she chose to send him out to be fostered. In 1773, Cassandra was born, followed by Francis in 1774, and Jane in 1775.According to Honan, the atmosphere of the Austen home was an "open, amused, easy intellectual" one, where the ideas of those with whom the Austens might disagree politically or socially were considered and discussed. The family relied on the patronage of their kin and hosted visits from numerous family members. Mrs Austen spent the summer of 1770 in London with George's sister, Philadelphia, and her daughter Eliza, accompanied by his other sister, Mrs Walter and her da.... Discover the Jane Austen popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Jane Austen books.