Jane Austen

Jane Austen book cover
Start Your Free Trial

At a Glance

Jane Austen might be one of the most well-known names in British literature today, but during her lifetime, no 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.

Facts and Trivia

  • 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.

Download Jane Austen Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Biography

(History of the World: 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.

Early 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...

(The entire section is 4,543 words.)