Jane Austen (1775-1817), English author wrote numerous influential works contributing to the Western literary canon including Pride and Prejudice (1813) which starts;
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.” —Chapter 1
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: self-respecting men were supposed to become lawyers or join the church or military, and respectable women married to improve their station in life.
Jane had started writing at an early age and her family were highly supportive, though as was done at the time her works were published anonymously. Her combination of irony, humour, and sophisticated observations of the societal and cultural machinations between the classes epitomise the often absurd problems of inheritance, courtship, morals, and marriage in Regency England. Modestly successful during her life, her works have gone on to inspire adaptations to the stage and film and have endured the test of time even into the 21st century.
Born on 16 December, 1775 Jane Austen was the daughter of Cassandra (née Leigh) (1739–1827) and the reverend George Austen (1731–1805). The Austens were a very close-knit family; Jane had six brothers and one sister, Cassandra, who would later draw a famous portrait of Jane. They lived in the village of Steventon in Hampshire county, England, where George was rector. Young Jane was tutored at home and attended the Abbey School in Reading, Berkshire.
Jane was inseparable from her older sister Cassandra. They sang and danced and attended balls together. When George retired around 1801, he moved his family to Bath where he died in 1805. Adjusting to the ensuing financial difficulties, Jane, Cassandra and their mother then moved to Southampton for a time before settling in a cottage on the estate of Edward Austen in the village of Chawton, Hampshire in 1809, which is now a museum. Austen had missed Steventon life and now returning to the Hampshire countryside she wrote in earnest, revising and writing new works including Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815).
Possibly suffering from Addington’s disease, Jane Austen died on 18 July, 1817. She lies buried in the north aisle of the nave in Winchester Cathedral in Winchester, England.
In the Memory of
youngest daughter of the Late
Rev.d George Austen
formerly rector of Steventon in this County
She departed this Life on the 18th of July, 1817,
Aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian
Posthumous publications were Persuasion (1817) and Northanger Abbey, a satirisation of Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). Although Austen had many critics, among them Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain and Lionel Trilling, she also had many admirers during her life and since, including the Prince Regent, Andrew Lang, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Virginia Woolf, and Sir Walter Scott who wrote;
“That young lady has a talent for describing the involvements of feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.”
Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.
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