A biography of the wonderful Regency novelist Jane Austen
|Jane Austen was born on the 16th of December 1775. She was daughter of George and Cassandra Austen and she had six brothers and one sister. She was especially close to her sister, Cassandra, who was two years older than her. Jane grew up in the village of Steventon in Hampshire, where her father was the rector for the local Anglican parishes.
The Austen children were encouraged to learn and think creatively, reading from their father's extensive library, writing and putting on plays and charades. To acquire a more formal education, Jane and Cassandra went to boarding school in 1783. In the autumn of that year, both girls caught typhus at school and Jane nearly died. For the next two years the sisters were educated at home before spending a year at a boarding school in Reading where they studied French, spelling, needlework, dancing, music and drama. By December 1786 the school fees were too high for the family to pay so the sisters had to return home. Jane's father ran a school to prepare the sons of local gentry for university from the rectory and tutored his own sons and daughters when they were at home.
Since her childhood, Jane scribbled stories in bound notebooks. In the 1790s, she started to craft her own novels. One early novella was Love and Freindship [sic], a witty parody of the romantic novels popular at the time. One of the aspects that she pokes fun of in this story is the prevalence of sensibility, or romanticism taken to hysterical levels, which she later used as a theme in her better known novel Sense and Sensibility. Love and Freindship was told as an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters, which was a popular format for novels at the time. The next book that Jane wrote, The History of England, was a parody of historical writing accompanied by illustrations drawn by Cassandra.
Jane spent her time as a young woman helping to run the family home, playing the pianoforte, attending church, visiting neighbours and dancing in assemblies. It was at one of these dances that Jane began a flirtation with Tom Lefroy, an Irish relative of Jane's friend Mrs. Anne Lefroy, who lived at Ashe Rectory. Tom was taking a break from his law studies in London when he met Jane and he eventually became a noted politician. Although Jane never married, she did once accept a proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither, the brother of her friends Catherine and Alethea, only to turn him down the next day. Cassandra too was unlucky in love as Tom Fowle, the man she was engaged to, died after catching an illness in the West Indes, where he had gone as a chaplain to his regiment.
Alongside the typical actives of a Regency rector's daughter, Jane continued her budding career as an author. Her next epistolary story, Lady Susan, gave a witty account of a manipulative woman, paving the way for the social dramas of her later novels which often feature social climbing and manipulative characters cast in a humorous light. Elinor and Marianne, the story that would later become Sense and Sensibility, also began as a series of letters penned by Jane around 1789. Aged twenty-one, Jane began First Impressions, a novel which her father offered to a publisher who refused it. Later, First Impressions would be revised by Jane and published as Pride and Prejudice. In her early twenties, Jane was also working on Susan, which was published as Northanger Abbey after her death.
When George Austen retired from the ministry in 1801, Jane moved to Bath with her father, mother and Cassandra. In 1805 her father died after a short illness. Mrs. Austen and her daughters were not left well off and spent the next few years moving from place to place, living in either the homes of various family members or in rented flats. In 1809 Jane's brother Edward, who had been adopted by the wealthy Knight family at the age of twelve, offered his mother and sisters a home in a cottage in Chawton; a Hampshire village that was part of the estate that he had inherited from the Knights.
It was whilst living at Chawton that Jane started to anonymously publish her works. Between 1811 and 1816 Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma were published.
In 1816, aged 41, Jane became terminally ill. Whilst the cause of her death is not known for sure, many people think that it may have been due to Addison's disease – a debilitating condition arising from problems with the adrenal gland. Despite her illness, she continued her writing, starting a new novel called The Brothers, which would be published unfinished after her death as Sanditon.
Jane died on 18th of July 1817 in Winchester, where she and Cassandra had gone in a hope of finding a cure for Jane's illness from a renowned physician. Jane is buried in Winchester cathedral. Her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously at the instigation of Cassandra and Jane's brother Henry.