Jane Austen

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Introduction

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Special Commissioned Essay on Jane Austen Julia Epstein

One of England's most celebrated authors, Austen ranks among the most widely studied and read authors in the English language, as well as in translations in thirty-five other languages. Though Austen is sometimes criticized by modern scholars as lacking innovation, her novels offered an often humorous and subtle critique of English society. Austen has been lauded for her intricate plots and dynamic characters, and noted for the sense of morality with which she infuses the aristocratic settings of her work.

Chronology

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

The following chronology offers an overview of Austen's life and career. The topics presented here are discussed in greater detail in the critical essay that follows.

1775: Jane Austen is born on 16 December at Steventon, Hampshire, near Basingstoke, to the Reverend George Austen, Rector of Steventon (1731‐1805) and Cassandra Leigh Austen (1739‐1827), who had married in 1764. The Austens lived in Deane, Hampshire, where their first three children were born, then moved to Steventon and had five more children. Jane is the seventh of eight children: James (1765‐1819), George (1766‐1838), Edward (1768‐1852), Henry (1771‐1850), Cassandra Elizabeth (1773‐1845), Francis [Frank] (1774‐1865), and Charles John (1779‐1852). The Austens were Tories in the country village of Steventon, and associated with the local gentry. George Austen earned a respectable but not large income of £600 a year from the Deane and Steventon livings, which he supplemented by taking in boarding pupils from neighboring families from 1773 until 1796. Before 1773, the family experienced financial problems that were eased by a loan from Mrs. Austen's wealthy brother, James Leigh Perrot (1735‐1817).

Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play, The Rivals, one of the most enduring late eighteenth‐century comic dramas, and one that Jane Austen came to know well, is performed in London. The actress Sarah Siddons (1755‐1831) makes her theatrical debut at the Drury Lane Theatre.

1777: Philadelphia Austen Hancock (George Austen's sister) and her daughter Eliza travel on the European continent, then settle in Paris in 1779.

1778: The Franco‐American Alliance is formed. Britain declares war on France.

Frances Burney's Evelina is published, as well as Anna Laetitia Barbauld's Lessons for Children. Two key Enlightenment thinkers and writers in Europe—Jean‐Jacques Rousseau, Swiss philosopher and political theorist, and François Arouet (Voltaire), French philosopher and polymath—die.

1779: James Austen (age fourteen), the eldest Austen child, enters St. John's College, Oxford, on a “Founder's Kin” scholarship, as his father had done before him.

1780: The Gordon Riots occur in London in June. This action begins as an anti‐Catholic demonstration and develops into ten days of rioting; 700 people die; 450 arrests are made, which result in twenty‐five executions.

1781: Austen cousin Eliza Hancock marries Jean‐François Capot de Feuillide (1750‐1794) in France. Her husband is a captain in the Queen's Regiment of Dragoons and calls himself the Comte de Feuillide.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and Jean‐Jacques Rousseau's Confessions are published. Friedrich Schiller's play The Robbers is performed.

1782: The Austens perform the first of their home theatricals, encouraged by James Austen. Amateur theatricals at Steventon became a tradition and were performed in the dining room or the nearby barn. Eliza de Feuillide influenced these activities.

1783: Jane and Cassandra Austen are sent to school with their cousin Jane Cooper (age twelve), to be taught by Ann Cawley (Mrs. Cooper's aunt) at a boarding school at Oxford in the spring. In the summer the school moves to Southampton. The girls are brought home after an infectious disease (probably typhus) breaks out. After the girls return home, Jane Cooper's mother contracts the illness and dies in October.

Edward Austen, the third son, is adopted by...

(The entire section is 49,943 words.)