Jane Austen: World-Changing Women
Updated: Mar 12
Jane Austen (1775-1817), was one of England’s foremost novelists–although she never received public recognition for her work as a writer until after her death. Today, her novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, are considered literary classics.
Jane was born on December 16, 1775, at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, England. She was the seventh child of George and Cassandra Austen, a country clergyman and his wife. Her only sister, Cassandra–three years her elder–was her closest friend. Jane was also close to her older brother, Henry, who also became her literary agent later in life.
Learning and creative thinking were encouraged within the close-knit Austen family. Jane and her siblings did a great deal of reading–their father owned a substantial collection of books. The eight children also enjoyed writing and acting out plays and charades.
In order to acquire a more formal education, Jane and Cassandra were sent to boarding schools. Both girls caught typhus while at school, with Jane becoming dreadfully ill. Financial difficulties cut the two sister’s formal education short, and they returned home to live with their parents.
It seems the love of Jane Austen’s life was Tom Lefroy, a nephew of nearby neighbors who was studying to be a barrister in London. Jane spent time with Tom when he was visiting, and fell deeply in love. Unfortunately, Tom’s family intervened due to the financial limitations of the Austen family, and Tom was sent away, ending the relationship–most likely breaking Jane’s heart.
Jane’s early adulthood was spent keeping up the family home, playing piano, attending church, and socializing with her neighbors. On nights and weekends Jane enjoyed attending cotillions, and became an accomplished dancer thanks to these outings. She often read novels aloud to her family, and was also writing her own work at this time.
As she wrote her style of writing evolved through works such as Lady Susan, another epistolary story about a manipulative woman who uses her sexuality, intelligence and charm to take advantage of others. Elinor and Marianne, a story told as a series of letters, which would eventually be published as Sense and Sensibility, was also in the works at that time.
Jane moved with her parents and sister Cassandra to Bath in 1801. Unfortunately, her beloved father passed away after a short illness in 1805. This caused financial hardship for the three women, who moved often between the homes of family members and rented flats.
Eventually Jane’s brother, Edward, helped the Austen women move to Chawton Cottage–Jane’s writing flourished in this peaceful setting. Northanger Abbey was her first
With the help of her brother, Henry, Jane’s novel Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 by London publisher Thomas Egerton. This book was originally written in 1794 and titled Elinor and Marianne. In 1813 this work became a sold-out financial success.
Jane’s second work, Pride and Prejudice, was published in 1813 and marketed much more heavily. It was a huge success with both the public and critics.
Mansfield Park was quickly released next, and the public loved it–but the critics not so much. This became the most popular, and financially profitable, of all of Austen’s work at that time.
In 1816, at the age of 41, Jane became increasingly ill–some say she may have had Addison’s disease based on her symptoms. She continued her writing, editing older works, completing The Elliots, and starting a new novel called The Brothers.
Jane switched publishers, choosing to work with the famous London publisher John Murray. Emma and a second edition of Mansfield Park, were released by Murray. Emma was a critical success and, unfortunately, Mansfield Park did not do well.
Death and Legacy
Sadly, Jane’s condition continued to deteriorate, stealing the opportunity for her to complete either novel herself. The Brothers would be released post-humously–as Sanditon–along with another novel, Persuasion
Cassandra and Henry took Jane to Winchester in May of 1817, seeking medical help to no avail. She died on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, Hampshire, England. Henry managed to have Jane buried at Winchester Cathedral.
Henry and Cassandra worked to finish The Brothers and Persuasion following Jane’s death, and they were published as a collection in one book, Persuasion, in 1817. It was in these works that Jane Austen was finally revealed as the author of her former novels, thanks to a lovely disclosure written by Henry.
Northanger Abbey, originally titled Susanne, had been sold to a publisher in 1803 but never published. It was also published in the months following Jane’s death.
Despite lacking financial security throughout most of her adult life, Jane’s strong will prevailed. She managed to write with wit and clarity, creating her unique characters from her life experiences and keen observation of the human character.
Jane Austen is now considered one of the greatest writers in English history.
Peace, love & creativity, Sandra
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