Jane Austen was born on December 16th, 1775. She had a public baptism several months later, on April 5th of 1776. Rather than being reared by her mother in her family home, Austen was sent to live with a nearby woman named Elizabeth Littlewood, who cared for her a year or more. According to the tradition of the family, Jane and her sister, Cassandra Austen, were sent to Oxford to be educated. Unfortunately, both girls came down with a case of typhus, leaving Jane near to death. Subsequently, she was sent back home to be educated until the age of three, when both she and Cassandra were once more sent away, this time to a boarding school. While there, they studied French, needlework, spelling, music, and dancing, all considered a necessity for a girl at the time. By December of 1786 when Jane was eleven, they returned home, as the Austens did not possess the necessary funds to send them both to school.
The remainder of Austen’s education came from a combination of reading, and impromptu tutelage by her father and older brothers. Her father encouraged both Jane and her sister to learn and to write, providing them with unlimited access to his personal library, as well as supplying them with the materials needed for their writing. It is thought that from as early as 1787, Austen began to write poems, stories, and plays.
In adulthood, Austen remained at home with her family and partook in the common activities of a lady in her time, including playing the piano, attending to female relatives during their childbirth, supervising servants, attending church, practicing her needlework, and socializing with family, friends, and neighbors. She also continued to read and write avidly. She began writing one of her earliest pieces – a comedic play called “Sir Charles Grandison or the happy Man” – which was completed in 1800. Not long after, Austen made the decision to begin trying to write for profit, and turned from writing satirical pieces to more sophisticated writing. This new tactic produced what is considered to be her most sophisticated – and most ambitious – early piece, a short novel entitled “Lady Susan”. It featured the first of many of Austen’s leading ladies known for their intelligence; the titular character is a sexual predator who uses her cunning, rather than her so-called feminine wiles, alone to manipulate and betray those around her.
Once finished, Austen began work on her first full-length novel, “Elinor and Marianne”. It was later published anonymously in 1811 under a different title, which became one of her most famous works – “Sense and Sensibility”. With only a brief break in-between in which she harbored a crush for a visiting nephew of neighbors, Austen promptly began working on another novel, “First Impressions”, which would later become another of the stories she is most famous for, “Pride and Prejudice”.
“Sense and Sensibility” features the lead heroines Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, who are sent into crippling poverty following the untimely death of their father. While Marianne finds herself torn between John Willoughby and Colonel Brandon, Elinor struggles with her love of Edward Ferrars, who happens to be engaged to another woman.
In “Pride and Prejudice”, Elizabeth Bennet lives with her family and, as the oldest sister, is put under increasing pressure to find a man suitable for marriage. She is introduced to the off-putting yet handsome Mr. Darcy, and while it is obvious that there is a connection between the two, Darcy’s inability to speak to his feelings for Elizabeth remains a constant threat to end their blossoming relationship.
In 1804, Austen’s father was suddenly and fatally struck by illness, leaving Jane, Cassandra, and their mother in a bad financial bind. Though Jane’s brother’s offered to make yearly contributions to the three women, for the next four years it was plain to see that the women were in monetary straits. They were forced to either rent from a small apartment, or to live with nearby relatives.
In December 1809 she received her first – and only – marriage proposal, made by the brother of old friends, Harris Bigg-Wither. Though she was not attracted to the man, the marriage offered many advantageous opportunities, such as the provision of extensive land for Jane to ensure the Austen family could settle down on. Austen never did record in either a letter or a diary what she herself made of the proposal. Surprisingly, though, the marriage proposal eventually fell through, and – ironically – for the remainder of her life one of the most celebrated romance authors lived without a significant other.
By 1811 Austen successfully published “Sense and Sensibility”, which became completely sold out by mid-1813 given its widespread praise and high acclaims. Given its popularity, she was also able to publish “Pride and Prejudice”, “Mansfield Park”, and “Emma”, additional titles which are still very well-known today.
In early 1816, at the still relatively young age of 41, Jane Austen began feeling unwell, and eventually deteriorated further in a long, painful, and drawn-out death. Despite being unhealthy, Austen continued to be productive, finished one novel before beginning on another. She refused to acknowledge the disease as anything worse than rheumatism, either to delude herself into thinking she was fine, or to keep her family and friends from worrying. Eventually as the disease progressed, she found it was a struggle to do once-simple tasks such as writing or even walking. Sadly, she passed away by mid-July 1817 at Winchester Cathedral, in whose graveyard she was later interred. She was given a retrospective diagnosis of Addison’s disease in 1964, but this was later changed to a different pronouncement of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Several other claims have been made regarding what sickness killed her, including bovine tuberculosis, which is contracted by consuming unpasteurized milk, and Brill-Zinsser disease, which is a recurrent form of typhus, relating back to the illness of her early childhood.
Following her death, her siblings had two more pieces of her work published, “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey”. Her brother Henry was the one family member who went public about Jane being the one who had written all of the previous famous novels. Surprisingly, though we view Jane Austen as one of the most prolific female authors of her time, she was not well received by the members of high academia until the mid-20th century. Prior to this, she was only popular among the general population.
In popular culture, Jane Austen features herself as a character in 2007’s “Becoming Jane” starring Anne Hathaway, the television move starring Olivia Williams of the same year entitled “Miss Austen Regrets”, “JANE, the musical”, and as the narrator of the video game “Saints Row IV”. “Sense and Sensibility” became a television mini-series in the years 1971, 1981, and 2008, and was made into a movie in the year 1995, starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. “Pride and Prejudice” was adapted for the television in 1952, 1957, 1958, 1961, 1967, 1980, and 1995, and was made into a feature film in 1940, 2004, and the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen
Books in order of publication:
|Sense and Sensibility||(1811)|
|Pride and Prejudice||(1813)|