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A Brief Biography of Jane Austen

S&S posterJane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) spent most of her 41 years living quietly with immediate family members in the English village of Steventon and Chawton, Hampshire. Her father was rector of the parish church at Steventon for many years, and took in pupils to supplement his modest income. Jane was the seventh of eight children born to her parents, and the second of only two girls. (Jane and her older sister Cassandra were extremely close throughout Jane’s life, as evidenced by their many letters to one another.)

Jane Austen goodJane received most of her education from her parents. Interested in writing from an early age, she wrote many short humorous pieces to be read at family gatherings. As an adult, she continued this practice, but began to write longer works—still with no thought of publication. In 1795 she finished Elinor and Marianne, (the prototype for Sense & Sensibility), and in 1796 she wrote First Impressions (which would become Pride and Prejudice).

Bath crescentWhile living with her elderly parents at Bath, Jane continued to write, and was encouraged by her family to seek publication. However, First Impressions was rejected by one publisher, and Jane declined to try again for several years. In 1803 Jane successfully sold Susan (later retitled Northanger Abbey) to a London publisher for ₤10. Unfortunately, the publisher changed his mind and never brought it out. Meanwhile, Jane began another novel but never wrote more than a few chapters—possibly discouraged by the failure of Susan to find a wider audience, she abandoned it completely after her father’s death in 1805. This five-chapter fragment, The Watsons, has been finished and published by at least nine separate authors over the past 200 years.

book coverThe Austen family left the hustle and bustle of Bath after Rev. Austen’s death and moved to a cottage in Chawton. Here, in the quiet country atmosphere she loved, Jane turned to her earlier works and began to revised them for publication, as any income would be very helpful. (Jane’s brothers did their best to provide for her throughout her life.) Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811. Its strong reception encouraged her to submit Pride and Prejudice, which was sold for the comparatively large sum of ₤110 and appeared in print in 1813. Later that year, Jane wrote Mansfield Park, the first of her mature novels. The following year, after selling Mansfield Park, she began Emma, which was published in 1815. That same year Jane began Persuasion, the novel which would contain her memories of life at Bath.

Jane’s brother, Henry, successfully bought back the rights to Susan in 1816. Jane meanwhile began another novel, Sanditon, and completed 12 chapters before she became too ill to write. She died in July of 1817. Her brothers had Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published posthumously, in one volume, in December of that year.

A spinster of poor health who died at age 41, having never traveled beyond the south of England, Jane Austen yet achieved the completion of six novels which have remained continuously in print since their publication. All six have received countless adaptations for stage, screen and television, and remain as popular today as they were two hundred years ago.

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