Jane Austen was an English writer whose books, set among the English middle and upper classes, are distinguished for their wit, social observation and insights into the lives of early 19th century women. Rich in comedy, romance, wit and satire, Jane Austen’s six novels are also pin-sharp reflections of her social and geographical milieu in and around Hampshire, Bath and Dorset.
Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire. She was one of eight children of a minister and grew up in a close-knit family. She began to write as a teenager. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. After the death of Jane’s father in 1805 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother moved several times eventually residinig in Chawton, near Steventon.
Steventon Rectory was Jane Austen’s home for the first 25 years of her life. From here she travelled to Kent to stay with her brother Edward in his mansion at Godmersham Park near Canterbury, and she also had some shorter holidays in Bath, where her aunt and uncle lived. During the 1790s she wrote the first drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey; her trips to Kent and Bath gave her the local colour for the settings of these last two books.
Jane’s brother Henry aided her deal with a publisher and her first novel, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, appeared in 1811. Her next novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which she designated as her “own darling child” received highly favourable reviews. ‘Mansfield Park’ was published in 1814, then ‘Emma’ in 1816. ‘Emma’ was dedicated to the prince regent, an fan of her work. All of Jane Austen’s novels were published incognito.
Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice both revolve around sisters, and Austen’s loving alliance with her only sister Cassandra lasted all her life. Both Jane and Cassandra had romances, but, like Austen’s heroines, refused to marry for the sake of marriage. They remained single, supporting their mother after the death of their father in 1805.
In 1809, Austen moved with her mother and her sister to Chawton, a tranquil Hampshire village. There, in a house given to them by her wealthy brother Edward, Austen spent her happiest years. All six of her novels date in their finished form from this period. Mansfield Park was published in 1814 and Emma, with its heroine whom Austen foretold ‘no one but myself will much like’, in 1815.
In 1816, Jane began to suffer from poor health, probably due to Addison’s disease. She voyaged to Winchester to receive treatment, and died there on 18 July 1817. Two more novels, ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ were published after her death and a last novel was left unfinished.
WIT AND WISDOM OF JANE AUSTEN:
There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.” — Personal correspondence
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.” —Pride and Prejudice (1813)
One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.” —Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Know your own happiness. Want for nothing but patience – or give it a more fascinating name: Call it hope.” —Sense and Sensibility (1811)
The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” —Northanger Abbey (1817)
Without music, life would be a blank to me.” —Emma (1815)
To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.” —Pride and Prejudice (1813)
It is very difficult for the prosperous to be humble.” —Emma (1815)
I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” — Personal correspondence
Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief.” —Emma (1815)
The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of merit or sense.” —Pride and Prejudice (1813)