Jane Austen (1775-1817)
One of the greatest of all the movelists of manners, Jane Austen was born in 1775, the seventh of eight children. Her father was of the parishes of Steventon and Deane in Hampshire, and the parsonage of Steventon remained her home for the first time twenty-six years of her life. She studied at the Abbey School at Reading, and then completed her education at home.
The years of her youth were free and happy, even though her life was spent in a very limited environment: Hampshire, Kent, Sussex and Somerset. Jane was a lively, graceful girl, who enjoyed the social life that her small world provided; she was a brilliant conversationlist, an accomplished dancer, and a prodigious letter-writer. She soon developed the qualities of a keen observer of human society. English country society of neither the lowest nor the highest stratum, with the balls and visits, gossip, shopping and similar trivial matters offered the material of her novels.
Very little is known of her own sentimental life. She seems toh ave had a very romantic love story with a young man who had no money or position and was therefore compelled to go abroad to seek his fortune. He never returned (he seems to have died of some illness like yellow fever). This personal experience, so moving and so sad, may have inspired the story of Ann Elliot in Persuation.
She began writing very soon – she was not yet sixteen – and her first works consisted of parodies of current literary fashions. In 1795 she completed a novel in the form of lettera, Elinor and Marinane, which later provided the basis of Sensibility – the first of her work sto be published in 1811. In the years 1796 and 1797 Jane wrote First Impressions which was later developed into Pride and Prejudice, and was published in 1813. She wrote Northanger Abbey in 1797-98. When the manuscript had undergone some revision, in 1803, it was sold for ten pounds to a publisher who took no step to publish it. Six years later she repurchased the unpublished work which appeared in 1818, after her death.
In 1801 her father retired to Bath, and on his death in 1805 his wife and two daughters moved to the neighbourhood of Southampton.
From 1803 to 1809 there was a pause in her literary activity; finally she moved with her mother and sister to Chawton, in Hampshire, and having once more a settled home she resumed work, Mansfield Park was begun in 1811; Pride and Prejudice was completed in 1812 and appeared in 1813. Emma was begun in 1814 and Persuasion in 1815. By 1814 Jane Austen’s authorship had become known, and the Prince Regent – to whom she dedicated Emma – was one of the admirers.
In 1816 her health began to fall, and in 1817 she went to Winchester in search of medical attention, but she died after two months. Her body was buried in the north aisle of the cathedral.