Steventon, Hampshire, England
Place of Death
Winchester, Hampshire, England, UK
Cause of Death
Jane Austen (; 16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony and social commentary as well as her acclaimed plots have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics.
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Sense and Sensibility  (Thomas Egerton, Military Library (Whitehall, London)), Pride and Prejudice  (T. Egerton, Whitehall), Mansfield Park  (Mr. Egerton), Emma  (John Murray), Northanger Abbey  (John Murray), Persuasion  (John Murray)
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Sense and Sensibility
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One of the most celebrated English authors, Jane Austen expressed the comedic manners and romances of middle-class life in England. Despite the fact that Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma garnered little praise during her lifetime, her brilliantly expressed social commentary cemented her historical importance. Many of her works have been portrayed on stage and screen.
(born Dec. 16, 1775, Steventon, Hampshire, Eng.—died July 18, 1817, Winchester, Hampshire) English writer who first gave the novel its distinctly modern character through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life. Austen created the comedy of manners of middle-class life in the England of her time in her novels, Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), and Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (published posthumously, 1817).
Jane Austen was born in the Hampshire village of Steventon, where her father, the Reverend George Austen, was rector. She was the second daughter and seventh child in a family of eight: six boys and two girls. Her closest companion throughout her life was her elder sister, Cassandra, who also remained unmarried. Their father was a scholar who encouraged the love of learning in his children. His wife, Cassandra (née Leigh), was a woman of ready wit, famed for her impromptu verses and stories. The great family amusement was acting.
Jane Austen's lively and affectionate family circle provided a stimulating context for her writing. Moreover, her experience was carried far beyond Steventon rectory by an extensive network of relationships by blood and friendship. It was this world—of the minor landed gentry and the country clergy, in the village, the neighbourhood, and the country town, with occasional visits to Bath and to London—that she was to use in the settings, characters, and subject matter of her novels.
Her earliest-known writings date from about 1787, and between then and 1793 she wrote a large body of material that has survived in three manuscript notebooks: Volume the First, Volume the Second, and Volume the Third. These contain plays, verses, short novels, and other prose and show Austen engaged in the parody of existing literary forms, notably sentimental fiction. Her passage to a more serious view of life from the exuberant high spirits and extravagances of her earliest writings is evident in Lady Susan, a short novel-in-letters written about 1793–94 (and not published until 1871). This portrait of a woman bent on the exercise of her own powerful mind and personality to the point of social self-destruction is, in effect, a study of frustration and of woman's fate in a society that has no use for woman's stronger, more “masculine,” talents.
In 1802 it seems likely that Jane agreed to marry Harris Bigg-Wither, the 21-year-old heir of a Hampshire family, but the next morning changed her mind. There are also a number of mutually contradictory stories connecting her with someone with whom she fell in love but who died very soon after. Since Austen's novels are so deeply concerned with love and marriage, there is some point in attempting to establish the facts of these relationships. Unfortunately, the evidence is unsatisfactory and incomplete. Cassandra was a jealous guardian of her sister's private life, and after Jane's
death she censored the surviving letters, destroying many and cutting up others. But Jane Austen's own novels provide indisputable evidence that their author understood the experience of love and of love disappointed.
The earliest of her novels, Sense and Sensibility, was begun about 1795 as a novel-in-letters called “Elinor and Marianne,” after its heroines. Between October 1796 and August 1797 Austen completed the first version of Pride and Prejudice, then called “First Impressions.” In 1797 her father wrote to offer it to a London publisher for publication, but the offer was declined. Northanger Abbey, the last of the early novels, was written about 1798 or 1799, probably under the title “Susan.” In 1803 the manuscript of “Susan” was sold to the publisher Richard Crosby for 10. He took it for immediate publication, but, although it was advertised, unaccountably it never appeared.
Up to this time the tenor of life at Steventon rectory had been propitious for Jane Austen's growth as a novelist. This stable environment ended in 1801, however, when George Austen, then aged 70, retired to Bath with his wife and daughters. For eight years Jane had to put up with a succession of temporary lodgings or visits to relatives, in Bath, London, Clifton, Warwickshire, and, finally, Southampton, where the three women lived from 1805 to 1809. In 1804 Jane began The Watsons but soon abandoned it. In 1804 her dearest friend, Mrs. Anne Lefroy, died suddenly, and in January 1805 her father died in Bath.
Eventually, in 1809, Jane's brother Edward was able to provide his mother and sisters with a large cottage in the village of Chawton, within his Hampshire estate, not far from Steventon. The prospect of settling at Chawton had already given Jane Austen a renewed sense of purpose, and she began to prepare Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication. She was encouraged by her brother Henry, who acted as go-between with her publishers. She was probably also prompted by her need for money. Two years later Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility, which came out, anonymously, in November 1811. Both of the leading reviews, the Critical Review and the Quarterly Review, welcomed its blend of instruction and amusement. Meanwhile, in 1811 Austen had begun Mansfield Park, which was finished in 1813 and published in 1814. By then she was an established (though anonymous) author; Egerton had published Pride and Prejudice in January 1813, and later that year there were second editions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Pride and Prejudice seems to have been the fashionable novel of its season. Between January 1814 and March 1815 she wrote Emma, which appeared in December 1815. In 1816 there was a second edition of Mansfield Park, published, like Emma, by Lord Byron's publisher, John Murray. Persuasion (written August 1815–August 1816) was published posthumously, with Northanger Abbey, in December 1817.
The years after 1811 seem to
have been the most rewarding of her life. She had the satisfaction of seeing her work in print and well reviewed and of knowing that the novels were widely read. They were so much enjoyed by the Prince Regent (later George IV) that he had a set in each of his residences; and Emma, at a discreet royal command, was “respectfully dedicated” to him. The reviewers praised the novels for their morality and entertainment, admired the character drawing, and welcomed the homely realism as a refreshing change from the romantic melodrama then in vogue.
For the last 18 months of her life, she was busy writing. Early in 1816, at the onset of her fatal illness, she set down the burlesque Plan of a Novel, According to Hints from Various Quarters (first published in 1871). Until August 1816 she was occupied with Persuasion, and she looked again at the manuscript of “Susan” (Northanger Abbey).
In January 1817 she began Sanditon, a robust and self-mocking satire on health resorts and invalidism. This novel remained unfinished owing to Austen's declining health. She supposed that she was suffering from bile, but the symptoms make possible a modern clinical assessment that she was suffering from Addison's disease. Her condition fluctuated, but in April she made her will, and in May she was taken to Winchester to be under the care of an expert surgeon. She died on July 18, and six days later she was buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Her authorship was announced to the world at large by her brother Henry, who supervised the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. There was no recognition at the time that regency England had lost its keenest observer and sharpest analyst; no understanding that a miniaturist (as she maintained that she was and as she was then seen), a “merely domestic” novelist, could be seriously concerned with the nature of society and the quality of its culture; no grasp of Jane Austen as a historian of the emergence of regency society into the modern world. During her lifetime there had been a solitary response in any way adequate to the nature of her achievement: Sir Walter Scott's review of Emma in the Quarterly Review for March 1816, where he hailed this “nameless author” as a masterful exponent of “the modern novel” in the new realist tradition. After her death, there was for long only one significant essay, the review of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in the Quarterly for January 1821 by the theologian Richard Whately. Together, Scott's and Whately's essays provided the foundation for serious criticism of Jane Austen: their insights were appropriated by critics throughout the 19th century.
Jane Austen's three early novels form a distinct group in which a strong element of literary satire accompanies the comic depiction of character and society.
Sense and Sensibility tells the story of the impoverished Dashwood sisters. Marianne
is the heroine of “sensibility”— i.e., of openness and enthusiasm. She becomes infatuated with the attractive John Willoughby, who seems to be a romantic lover but is in reality an unscrupulous fortune hunter. He deserts her for an heiress, leaving her to learn a dose of “sense” in a wholly unromantic marriage with a staid and settled bachelor, Colonel Brandon, who is 20 years her senior. By contrast, Marianne's older sister, Elinor, is the guiding light of “sense,” or prudence and discretion, whose constancy toward her lover, Edward Ferrars, is rewarded by her marriage to him after some distressing vicissitudes.
Pride and Prejudice describes the clash between Elizabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich and aristocratic landowner. Although Austen shows them intrigued by each other, she reverses the convention of “first impressions”: “pride” of rank and fortune and “prejudice” against Elizabeth's inferiority of family hold Darcy aloof; while Elizabeth is equally fired both by the “pride” of self-respect and by “prejudice” against Darcy's snobbery. Ultimately, they come together in love and self-understanding. The intelligent and high-spirited Elizabeth was Jane Austen's own favourite among all her heroines and is one of the most engaging in English literature.
Northanger Abbey combines a satire on conventional novels of polite society with one on Gothic tales of terror. Catherine Morland, the unspoiled daughter of a country parson, is the innocent abroad who gains worldly wisdom: first in the fashionable society of Bath and then at Northanger Abbey itself, where she learns not to interpret the world through her reading of Gothic thrillers. Her mentor and guide is the self-assured and gently ironic Henry Tilney, her husband-to-be.
In the three novels of Jane Austen's maturity, the literary satire, though still present, is more subdued and is subordinated to the comedy of character and society.
In its tone and discussion of religion and religious duty, Mansfield Park is the most serious of Austen's novels. The heroine, Fanny Price, is a self-effacing and unregarded cousin cared for by the Bertram family in their country house. Fanny emerges as a true heroine whose moral strength eventually wins her complete acceptance in the Bertram family and marriage to Edmund Bertram himself, after that family's disastrous involvement with the meretricious and loose-living Crawfords.
Of all Austen's novels, Emma is the most consistently comic in tone. It centres on Emma Woodhouse, a wealthy, pretty, self-satisfied young woman who indulges herself with meddlesome and unsuccessful attempts at matchmaking among her friends and neighbours. After a series of humiliating errors, a chastened Emma finds her destiny in marriage to the mature and protective George Knightley, a neighbouring squire who had been her mentor and friend.
Persuasion tells the story of a second chance, the reawakening of love between Anne Elliot and Captain
Frederick Wentworth, whom seven years earlier she had been persuaded not to marry. Now Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars with prize money and the social acceptability of naval rank; he is an eligible suitor acceptable to Anne's snobbish father and his circle, and Anne discovers the continuing strength of her love for him.
Although the birth of the English novel is to be seen in the first half of the 18th century in the work of Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding, it is with Jane Austen that the novel takes on its distinctively modern character in the realistic treatment of unremarkable people in the unremarkable situations of everyday life. In her six novels—Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion—Austen created the comedy of manners of middle-class life in the England of her time, revealing the possibilities of “domestic” literature. Her repeated fable of a young woman's voyage to self-discovery on the passage through love to marriage focuses upon easily recognizable aspects of life. It is this concentration upon character and personality and upon the tensions between her heroines and their society that relates her novels more closely to the modern world than to the traditions of the 18th century. It is this modernity, together with the wit, realism, and timelessness of her prose style; her shrewd, amused sympathy; and the satisfaction to be found in stories so skillfully told, in novels so beautifully constructed, that helps to explain her continuing appeal for readers of all kinds. Modern critics remain fascinated by the commanding structure and organization of the novels, by the triumphs of technique that enable the writer to lay bare the tragicomedy of existence in stories of which the events and settings are apparently so ordinary and so circumscribed.
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Francis Austen, Charles John, George, Edward, Henry Thomas, James
Cassandra Elizabeth Austen
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Date of Birth 16 December 1775, Steventon, Hampshire, England, UK
Date of Death 18 July 1817, Winchester, Hampshire, England, UK (Addison's disease)
Mini Bio (1)
Jane Austen was born on December 16th, 1775, to the local rector, Rev. George Austen (1731-1805), and Cassandra Leigh (1739-1827). She was the seventh of eight children. She had one older sister, Cassandra. In 1783 she went to Southampton to be taught by a relative, Mrs. Cawley, but was brought home due to a local outbreak of disease. Two years later she attended the Abbey Boarding School in Reading, reportedly wanting to follow her sister Cassandra, until 1786.
Jane was mostly educated at home, where she learned how to play the piano, draw and write creatively. She read frequently and later came to enjoy social events such as parties, dances and balls. She disliked the busy life of towns and preferred the country life, where she took to taking long walks.
In 1801 Jane, her parents and sister moved to Bath, a year after her father's retirement, and the family frequented the coast. While on one of those coastal holidays she met a young man, but the resulting romantic involvement ended tragically when he died. It is believed by many astute Austen fans that her novel, "Persuasion", was inspired by this incident.
Following her father's passing in January of 1805--which left his widow and daughters with financial problems--the family moved several times until finally settling into a small house, in Chawton, Hampshire, owned by her brother Edward, which is reminiscent of "Sense and Sensibility". It was in this house that she wrote most of her works.
In March of 1817 her health began to decline and she was forced to abandon her work on "Sanditon", which she never completed. It turned out that she had Addisons disease. In April she wrote out her will and then on May 24th moved with Cassandra to Winchester, to be near her physician. It was in Winchester she died, in the arms of her sister, on Friday, 18 July 1817, at the age of only 41. She was buried the 24th of July at Winchester Cathedral. Jane never married.
During her formative years, Jane wrote plays and poems. At 14 she wrote her first novel, "Love and Freindship [sic]" and other juvenilia. Her first (unsuccessful) submission to a publisher, however, was in 1797 titled "First Impressions" (later "Pride and Prejudice"). In 1803 "Susan" (later "Northanger Abbey") was actually sold to a publisher for a mere £10 but was not published until 14 years later, posthumously. Her first accepted work was in 1811 titled "Sense and Sensibility", which was published anonymously as were all books published during her lifetime. She revised "First Impressions" and published it entitled "Pride and Prejudice" in 1813. "Mansfield Park" was published in 1814, followed by "Emma" in 1816, the same year she completed "Persuasion" and began "Sanditon", which was ultimately left unfinished. Both "Persuasion" and "Northanger Abbey" were published in 1818, after her death.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: CindyH
Listed in "People Weekly"s "Most Intriguing People" list. (December 25, 1995/January 1, 1996 issue)
Was fluent in French.
The Prince Regent was such a fan of her work that he asked her to dedicate her next book to him, which she did.
In July of 2002 a first edition of "Pride and Prejudice" was auctioned and sold for £40,000, nearly doubling the previous record set for an Austen novel in 2001 of £23,500.
Her books have never been out of print since they were first published.
Between 1900 and 1975, there were more than 60 radio, television and stage productions of Austen novels. The first film adaptation was of "Pride and Prejudice" in 1940, although there had been a television version two years previously.
Her brother Edward's descendant married the daughter of Louis Mountbatten (aka Lord Mountbatten; assassinated in 1979 by the IRA), who in turn was a descendant of Queen Victoria.
Anne Hathaway portrayed her in Becoming Jane (2007).
Seventh generation aunt (through her brother Edward) of actress Anna Chancellor, who appeared in Jane's favored romance Pride and Prejudice (1995) mini-series and who also narrates the documentary The Real Jane Austen (2002).
The film Clueless (1995) is based on her novel "Emma".
Her eight times great niece is actress Anna Chancellor.
Personal Quotes (5)
If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient--at others, so bewildered and so weak--and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are to be sure a miracle every way--but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting, do seem peculiarly past finding out.
[her last words, when asked by her sister Cassandra if there was anything she wanted] Nothing, but death.
[when asked why her heroines always flawed] Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.
One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
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