Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 19th Century)
Article abstract: Austen’s realistic rendering of dialogue and her satirical accuracy make her novels a matchless re-creation of upper-class English society in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Her novels owe their lasting popularity, however, to Austen’s understanding of human nature as it operates in everyday life.
Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775, in Steventon, Hampshire, England, the seventh child and second daughter of George Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen. Her father was the reactor of Steventon and nearby Deane. A member of an old but poor family, he had been reared by a wealthy uncle, who educated him at St. John’s College, Oxford, where he was later a fellow. Austen’s mother was the daughter of a clergyman of noble ancestry, also an Oxford graduate and also a former fellow.
Although Jane and her older sister, Cassandra Austen, spent several years in schools in Southampton and Reading, their real education took place at home. The Austens loved words and books. The children could roam at will through George Austen’s impressive library. As they grew older, they staged amateur theatricals. The environment stimulated their curiosity, whether they were observing their mother’s experiments in farming or hearing their aristocratic French cousin talk about life in prerevolutionary France. With an ever-increasing family and a wide circle of friends, the Austen children had ample opportunity to analyze human motivations and relationships; it is not surprising that two of Jane’s brothers and her sister Cassandra all did some writing at one time or another.
The Austens also shared in remarkable good looks; Jane and Cassandra were sometimes called the best-looking girls in England. However flattering such comments may have been, it is true that Jane was a tall, slender brunette with brown, curly hair, hazel eyes, a good complexion, and a sweet voice. Although neither Jane nor Cassandra was ever married, it was not for lack of prospects. Indeed, both were engaged, Cassandra for some time, to a young clergyman who died in the West Indies, and Jane only overnight, to a family friend whom she rejected in the morning. There was evidently at least one other serious relationship for Jane, a holiday romance which was not pursued and which terminated when that young man, too, died.
Because Jane never left the family circle, her life has often been called uneventful. In fact, it was so busy that Jane had to snatch time to write. In addition to the normal social activities of her class, there were frequent visits to and from the brothers and their families, including lengthy stays by their children, several of whom were very close to their Aunt Jane. There were births, deaths, marriages, and remarriages; there was anxiety about Jane’s cousin, whose husband was executed in the French Revolution, and about two brothers, who were British naval officers. Thus, Jane was immersed in life, grieving and rejoicing with family members and friends, mothering nieces and nephews, worrying about the effect of her unstable times on those she loved. As one may note from her letters, she was also a perceptive observer of human behavior, unimpressed by pomposity, unfooled by pretense, and always alert to the comic dimension of human relationships.
It was this comic sense which first led Austen to writing. Her three notebooks collect jokes, skits, and rudimentary character sketches dating from the time she was eleven or twelve, along with a later comic history of England and a brief, unfinished novel named “Catherine.” By 1795, when she was twenty, Austen had produced “Elinor and Marianne” (which was later revised and published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility). By 1797, she had completed “First Impressions,” which the publisher Cadell refused even to read but which, revised, became her most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice (1813). Although none of her novels was to be published until 1811 (six years before her death, when Sense and Sensibility made its public appearance), Austen was thus involved in her mature work before her twenty-first birthday. No longer a superficially amusing girl, she had become a serious woman of letters.
Austen’s literary reputation rests on six novels, four of which were published during the last years of her life and two posthumously. Because she revised and retitled her early works before she was able to find a publisher for them, it is difficult to trace her development. Evidently, after a work was rejected, she would put it aside, begin another work, and then later revise the earlier one. Her most famous work, Pride and Prejudice, for example, was the product of twelve or fourteen years; Sense and Sensibility took at least sixteen years and two revisions between conception and publication.
Austen’s creative maturity can be divided into two major periods. During the first, she wrote three novels and vainly attempted to get them published. During the second, she revised, completed, and published two of her early novels and wrote three more, two of which were published before her death. It was only during the last half dozen years of her life, then, that she received the recognition which her genius merited.
During her years at Steventon, Austen wrote the first version of what was to be her first published work. “Elinor and Marianne” was the story of two sisters whose lives were governed by two different principles. In every crisis, one tried to be sensible, while the other gave way to uncontrolled emotion. The theme was reflected in Austen’s revision a year or two later, when she changed the title to Sense and Sensibility. It was under the second title that the novel,...
(The entire section is 2389 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Jane Austen was the seventh of eight children born to a Steventon, Hampshire clergyman. A large family of gentle lineage and no fortune, the Austens were a lively, literary household whose quiet country life left time for novel reading and charades. In 1801, Austen’s father moved with his wife and daughters to Bath, an expensive and populous watering place, possibly because his daughters were still unmarried. Jane is reported to have fallen in love in that year, but the gentleman died before a formal engagement had occurred. She never married. Jane’s elder sister by three years, Cassandra, was closest to her, and they lived together continually until Jane died in Winchester in 1817.
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Jane Austen’s life contained little in the way of outward event. Born in 1775, she was the seventh of eight children. Her father, the Reverend George Austen, was a scholarly clergyman, the rector of Steventon in rural Hampshire, England. Mrs. Austen shared her husband’s intelligence and intellectual interests, and the home they provided for their children was a happy and comfortable one, replete with the pleasures of country life, genteel society, perpetual reading, and lively discussion of ideas serious and frivolous. Jane Austen, who never married, was devoted throughout her life to her brothers and their families, but her closest relationship was with her older sister Cassandra, who likewise remained unmarried. Austen relied...
(The entire section is 300 words.)
Biography (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
The standard view of Jane Austen, fostered to some extent by the novelist’s own remarks, is of a reserved and restricted writer, working on a consciously small scale and deliberately unaffected by major events of the time. She refused all suggestions that she should venture on abstract or political themes, and once wrote that the true subject of her fiction was “three or four families in an English country village.” The great events of her life—the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the war with Napoleon Bonaparte—are all on the face of it ignored in her novels. She has been accused accordingly of a kind of triviality, or lack of interest, and in the late twentieth century of too easy an acceptance of the...
(The entire section is 2076 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Jane Austen (OWS-tuhn) was born on December 16, 1775, in the tiny village of Steventon, where her father, the Reverend George Austen, served as the town rector. Her mother, Cassandra Leigh Austen, was herself the daughter of a rector, and Jane was the seventh of the couple’s eight children. An older brother, George, suffered from epilepsy and did not live with the family, and the couple’s third son, Edward, was adopted by wealthy, childless relatives who took a strong interest in the boy throughout his childhood. The remaining six children, however, lived with their parents in the plain, comfortable village rectory.
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Although she completed only six novels, Jane Austen has retained a position of great critical acclaim among English novelists. A writer of great wit and elegance of style, she depicts her characters’ strengths and weaknesses with tolerance and sympathy.
Finding, as she once noted in a letter to her niece, that “3 or 4 Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on,” Austen examines the world she knows with delicate irony and wry humor, revealing in the process a grasp of the subtleties of human nature that transcends her books’ deceptively ordinary settings and events.
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IntroductionNo one would have guessed that this proper daughter of an English clergyman could have possessed such ironic humor, keen insight, and biting wit regarding the social lives of those in her pre-Victorian era. No one would have guessed it, and indeed very few besides her family and close friends even knew. During the early 1800s when Jane Austen was composing and publishing her works, fictional novels were frowned upon by some segments of society, and novels written by women were especially shunned. In fact, many of Austen’s works went to print with no name on the title page to avoid linking her to the negative stigma of female authorship. Although anonymity and lack of recognition and fame characterized her life, Jane Austen’s novels have since become celebrated, enjoyed, and studied for their humorous and pointed observations of societal life, lively character interaction, and detailed style.
- Outside the room where Jane Austen would write, there was a swinging door that creaked. Austen refused to allow it to be fixed because the creaking gave her warning when anyone was entering the room, allowing her time to hide her work.
- The young Jane Austen preferred cricket and baseball to traditional girls’ games.
- Austen’s perfectionism and attention to detail caused her to edit and rewrite each of her novels at least twice.
- Letters saved by Austen’s sister and best friend, Cassandra, reveal that Jane experienced some mysterious romances (material for her novels, possibly?), though she never married.
- Austen’s career and life were cut short at the age of 42 when she died of Addison’s disease.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Jane Austen (OWS-tuhn) was the seventh of eight children, the second daughter of a rural clergyman respected for his learning and literary taste. Two of her brothers followed their father to Oxford University and into the church; two others rose to be admirals in the navy. Except for brief schooling in Oxford, Southampton, and Reading, which ended at the age of nine, Austen was educated at home, where she learned French, a smattering of Italian, and some history and gained a thorough acquaintance with the essayists, novelists, and poets of the eighteenth century as well as with the works of William Shakespeare and John Milton.
(The entire section is 2321 words.)