Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire, England. She was the seventh of eight children born to George Austen, an Anglican rector, and Cassandra Leigh Austen.
The Austens were a close-knit family. Jane was very close to her older sister Cassandra, who would remain her closest friend and confidante throughout her life. The Austen sisters were educated mainly at home, as was typical for girls of their social standing at the time. They were well read and particularly enjoyed the popular novels of the day.
In addition to her six brothers and sister, Austen’s lively home was always filled with extended family members, friends, and students who boarded at the rectory while her father taught them. This busy, vibrant environment clearly influenced Austen’s writing.
What was Jane Austen’s family like?
Jane Austen came from a large, close-knit family. She had six brothers and one beloved older sister, Cassandra. Her father George was an Anglican rector who took in boarding students. Her mother, also named Cassandra, came from a prominent family. Jane’s home was always bustling with relatives, friends, and her father’s students. This lively environment inspired her family-centered novels.
Where did Jane Austen grow up?
Jane Austen grew up in the small village of Steventon in the countryside of Hampshire, England. Her father George served as the rector of the local parish there. She lived at the village rectory from her birth in 1775 until 1801, when her father retired and the Austen family moved to Bath. The country village and parsonage of Jane’s childhood featured prominently in many of her novels.
Early Writings and Publications
Austen began writing as a teenager. Among her earliest works was a comedic play, The Visit, written around 1787. Austen’s juvenile writings reveal an exuberant spirit and dashing humor. At age 20, she began a more ambitious writing project titled “Elinor and Marianne.” This epistolary novel about two sisters was a first draft of what would later become Sense and Sensibility.
In 1793, Austen penned Lady Susan, a short epistolary novel about a cunning widowed woman seeking a new husband. Lady Susan reveals Austen’s emerging gift for creating morally ambiguous characters and prefigures the themes of courtship and marriage that run throughout her later works.
Sense and Sensibility, Austen’s first published novel, appeared in 1811 when she was 35 years old. She put out a second edition in 1813. While the novel was considered “a man of genius,” it made little money. Her next novel, Pride and Prejudice, was very popular and she quickly sold all published copies. She earned more from the sales of this book than her previous three works combined.
What were Jane Austen’s first writings?
Austen’s earliest known writings were a play called The Visit and a comedic short story called The Mystery. Some of her first ambitious works included “Elinor and Marianne”, an early version of Sense and Sensibility, and a short novel called Lady Susan – both featuring themes of courtship, marriage, and woman’s status that would appear in her later books. While showing talent, these teenage writings still reflected Austen’s youth and inexperience.
At what age did Austen publish her first book?
Jane Austen was 35 years old when she published Sense and Sensibility, her first novel, in 1811. Prior to its publication, Austen had written several works including the novella Lady Susan and an early draft of Sense and Sensibility called “Elinor and Marianne”, but none of her writings had ever been published. Austen continued revising and seeking publishers for 15 more years before her work made it into print.
How much money did Austen earn from her books?
In her lifetime, Austen earned very little from her novels. She sold the copyright of Pride and Prejudice for 110 pounds in 1813. This sum would be equivalent to about $17,100 USD today. Her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, made about 140 pounds ($21,800) in its first run printed in 1811. While her books garnered critical acclaim and popularity in their time, it was not until after her death that they became extremely profitable.
Later Works and Recognition
In 1813, Austen moved with her mother and sister to live in Southampton. It was here that she began writing Mansfield Park. By 1814, Austen was working on Emma, which she intended to be “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Published by John Murray, who also released a second edition of Mansfield Park, Emma was the only novel Austen published that includes her name on the title page.
Austen’s identity as the mysterious “Lady” gained notoriety with the 1815 publication of Emma. But she remained determined to safeguard her privacy and prevent her “youthful Nonsense” from ever being acknowledged. Towards the end of her life, Austen began The Brothers (later titled Sanditon) but was prevented from completing it by the onset of what scholars believe to have been Addison’s disease. She died on July 18, 1817 in Winchester.
While Austen enjoyed modest success during her lifetime, she did not consider writing her primary occupation. Posthumous publishing of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey by her brother Henry brought her renewed attention. By 1833 her novels were termed “Janeisms” and Austen was declared one of England’s best novelists. Today she remains one of the world’s most beloved and celebrated authors.
|Year of Publication
|Sense and Sensibility
|Pride and Prejudice
Why did Austen value her privacy so much?
Austen highly valued keeping her personal life and identity as an author private. She published her early novels Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice anonymously with the credit, “A Lady”. Even when her later novels like Emma were attributed to her, she still avoided much publicity and wanted to prevent her embarrassing early writings from ever being connected to her. Austen wanted recognition as a serious novelist focused on her published works rather than sensation over her personal life.
What disease may have contributed to Austen’s early death?
Austen fell ill in early 1816, when she was only 41 years old. Her illness prevented her from fully completing her final novel Sanditon. Scholars today believe she suffered from Addison’s disease, an endocrine disorder affecting the adrenal glands. The disease can cause pain, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing – symptoms Austen described in personal letters. Addison’s disease was unknown during Austen’s life so she received no diagnosis. Tragically, it cut short her writing career when she was at the height of her literary powers.
How did Austen’s legacy grow after her death?
Although Austen saw only modest success during her lifetime, her novels quickly gained renown and acclaim. Her brother Henry published Persuasion and Northanger in 1818, bringing renewed interest. As the 19th century continued, fans and famous authors alike praised Austen’s wit and plot development. By the 1830s, “Austenisms” referred to her unique turns of phrase and “Janeite” describing obsessed fans emerged. Her books inspired countless adaptations – books, plays, films – over the next 200 years, cementing Jane Austen’s legacy as one of history’s greatest English novelists.
Impact and Legacy
Austen’s literary realism, biting social commentary, unforgettable characters, and attention to the small dramas of everyday life paved the way for many authors who would rise to prominence in Britain in the coming centuries.
The likes of Charles Dickens, the Brönte sisters, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, and other masters of the English novel all owe a debt to Austen’s innovations in prose writing and pioneering depictions of 19th century British society.
To this day, Austen continues to thrill readers. All six of her complete novels have remained in print continuously since their publication two centuries ago. Austen’s enduring appeal stems from the way she transformed the novel from mere entertainment into a medium for expressing timeless truths about human nature.
Jane Austen’s brief but brilliant literary career fundamentally shaped the course of the English novel. Her six completed novels—Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion—are beloved for their wit, insight, subtle social commentary, and enduring appeal.
Austen’s focus on depicting ordinary people, places, and events was groundbreaking for her time. Through masterful use of irony, dialogue, and free indirect speech reflecting a character’s inner voice, Austen invented techniques that would profoundly influence generations of writers. Her timeless appeal owes to a unique ability to blend humor, romance, and social satire while revealing deeper truths about human nature.
Nearly 200 years after her untimely death, Austen continues to garner new devoted fans. Her novels have inspired endless adaptations for stage and screens small and big. Even in today’s fast-paced modern world, Austen’s lessons on self-understanding, virtue, and finding balance between passion and reason still resonate strongly.
Indeed, many would argue the values embodied by Austen’s strong yet subtle heroines have never been more relevant. For her pioneering contributions to the English novel, as well as for her insight into the heart and mind, Jane Austen has secured her place among the greatest writers in the history of English literature.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Jane Austen considered one of the most important English novelists?
Austen is considered one of the most important English novelists for her pioneering literary realism, social commentary, innovative narrative techniques like free indirect speech, and for elevating the novel from popular entertainment to an art form.
Her depictions of 19th century middle class British society and engaging plots blending wit, romance, and satire sparked countless successors like Dickens.
What was Austen’s family life like?
Austen came from a large, affluent family of eight children. Her father George was an Anglican pastor who took in boarding pupils. She was very close to her sister Cassandra. The busy Austen family home, filled with relatives, friends, boarders, greatly influenced Jane’s social circle settings and characterization.
How much money did Austen earn from her novels?
In her lifetime, Austen earned just £631 from her books, equivalent to perhaps $150,000 today. This modest sum reflects the small profits authors made then. Her novels’ copyrights netted pittances early on, though her popularity eventually drove sales. Appreciation for Austen’s works became widespread only after her death.
What was Austen’s state of mind like in her final years?
In her final years from her late 30s onwards, Austen experienced gradually worsening health but was at the height of her literary powers. She moved frequently but continued writing innovative, important novels like Emma and Persuasion. Letters describe Austen’s deteriorating condition but maintain her wit and engagement with family and friends till her untimely death at 41.
Why is there ongoing fascination with Jane Austen’s life and novels?
There is ongoing fascination with Austen because her novels depict universals of human behavior and social dynamics which remain deeply relatable today.
Even two centuries later, popular culture can’t get enough of adaptations, fan fiction, and analysis seeking insights on relationships, society, ethics, and the heart’s mysteries which Austen explored so ingeniously in her tragically short writing career.