The Life and Work of Jane Austen
Jane Austen was born in Steventon, England in 1775, the seventh child of Reverend and Mrs. George Austen. The rustic midland counties of England in which she grew up provided the setting for her novels. She began writing at the age of twelve but had to wait over twenty years to find a publisher. She was thirty-five when Sense and Sensibility appeared in 1811. After that, she published Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816). Two more novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in 1818.
Written in fifteen months, Emma marked the pinnacle of Jane Austen’s energy and craftsmanship. Though it earned her a great deal of attention, she chose to remain at her desk rather than take her place among a literary society that praised her work. She remained a sensible spinster bound to her country cottage, even though the Prince Regent (later to be crowned King George IV) was an open admirer and requested that she dedicate this book to him, which she did in short, unflattering prose. It seems that though she was a favorite of his, keeping a set of her novels in each of his houses, she detested him.
An edition of 2,000 copies of Emma was published in 1816 and enjoyed immediate success among sophisticated readers and those who could afford its relatively high cost. The second printing was to come sixteen years later, then reprinted a number of times during the nineteenth century. Though well received by critics of the day, Emma, like most of Jane Austen’s novels, was considered too subtle and lacking sensation to be widely popular.
On July 18, 1817, Jane Austen died of the yet undiagnosed Addison’s disease and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. Her novels have grown in popularity ever since. A fragmentary work called Sandition was published in 1925, and a juvenile work, Love and Friendship, in 1922.