Biography

Jane's Early Life

Jane Austen was born to a family of lower gentry on December 16, 1775 in the small Hampshire town of Steventon, in south-central England. The seventh child and second daughter of Cassandra and Anglican rector, George Austen, she lived a relatively quiet life, assisting in the supervision of servants, reading, drawing, playing the pianoforte and writing. Jane attended school only briefly, but was the beneficiary of her father’s vast library and thereby acquired her education and an introduction to the wider world. These five hundred books and a family subscription to the local circulating library gave Jane access to the works of the writers she would come to love and admire - poet, William Cowper, novelists Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney and Henry Fielding and essayist Samuel Johnson, to name a few.  The Austen children were encouraged to think creatively, to write and to exercise their intellectual abilities, and within this nurturing atmosphere, Jane’s creativity flourished. Exhibiting itself early on, her talent for writing was encouraged by an enthusiastic audience as the young Jane regaled her family with her earliest efforts. While seated at a small octagonal writing desk, she turned out lively theatricals, stories and verse and honed the acerbic wit for which she has become famous.

 

Her Literary Works

 

The themes of Jane's later epistolary works and novels more closely mirrored everyday life as she knew it but her earliest efforts were bold, boisterous and exuberant pieces of adventure and intrigue in keeping with the literature of the day.  Regency Era popular fiction was decidedly romantic, marked by melodrama and high emotion, and Jane's early work reflects her dabbling in this style.  But this would change.  In the writing of Sense and Sensibility, and then Pride and Prejudice, Jane found her literary voice and she would shout it from the rooftops in her third novel, Northanger Abbey.  Nowhere do we see her departure from the pack of Gothic novelists then in vogue, so boldy declared than in her spoof of the genre itself.  Jane had by this time established a new and important style, Realism, which she would go on to perfect in Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion, influencing generations of writers to come.  She would bring her talent for keen observation of everyday life to the art of novel writing and would become a master storyteller, unrivalled in her command of character developmment and plot.  A trailblazer, she broke from the mode in order to create a personal platform from which to share her opinions and from which to preach, not always subtly, on the subjects which concerned her most.

 

Her Letters

 

As was common in her day, Jane devoted much time to letter writing and authored 3000 letters over the course of her lifetime. One hundred and sixty letters are extant. Jane corresponded with many family members and friends but chief among the recipients of her lively, descriptive letters was her sister, Cassandra.  Cassandra and Jane were often apart as adults but maintained their bond through letters that were unpretentious and transparent and which read today like lively transcripts from a series of telephone calls between best friends. Taken together, the letters are a window into the person who penned the novels and reveal a lively, loving, playful, funny, observant woman, outspoken and very much ahead of her time.

 

Her Legacy

 

Writing under the pseudonym, "A Lady," Austen was not a celebrated figure during her lifetime. Although she enjoyed some monetary success from the sale of her novels, her popularity began after 1869 upon the publication by James Edward Austen- Leigh of A Memoir of Jane Austen.  Austen’s popularity escalated thereafter and soared in the 20th century. Her novels are considered literary classics and continue to inspire countless derivative works, sequels and adaptations..