Jane Austen 1775 – 1817
Arguably the greatest English woman novelist, she completed six major works
in her short career.
She was the seventh child of a country Minister and was born in Hampshire in
the small village of Steventon.
Her father was well-read, and encouraged Jane to read extensively, and from an early age she was interested in the works of Sir Walter Scott, Henry Fielding and also in the poetry of George Crabbe, amongst others.
In 1801, Jane’s family moved to Bath in the west of England on the
retirement of her father, the Reverend George Austen.
Out of her large family, her closest relationship was with her sister
Cassandra, and her letters to her sister give further insight into the social content of her fictional writings. It is widely agreed that the Austen daughters were attractive, and enjoyed socializing,
especially at country parties. No doubt these experiences provided inspiration for much of Austen’s early novels.
Her first three novels were Northanger Abbey (published 1818 after
her death), Sense and Sensibility (published 1811), and Pride and Prejudice (published 1817). ‘Northanger Abbey’, was a satirical work aimed at the Gothic novels that were very popular at that time.
The family remained in Bath until 1809 when the Reverend Austen died.
During this time Austen wrote very little.
The family then moved to Chawton in Hampshire
where Jane resumed her writing and wrote her last three novels, Mansfield Park (published 1814), Emma (published 1816), and Persuasion (also published posthumously in 1818). It should be noted that her work was not particularly popular during her lifetime, although it has been agreed by scholars that she showed sparkling wit, droll sarcasm, and an accurate insight into human nature and relationships.
Although she had many suitors in her lifetime and was briefly engaged – for
one day – she turned down all her suitors and remained devoted to her family.
It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that her work began to be appreciated by a wider readership. She was little known in America until the early 20th century, but her work has recently undergone a further enthusiastic revival in the public’s imagination following several successful film adaptations of her work. These are notably Emma Thomson’s version of
Sense and Sensibility in 1995 starring Emma Thomson, Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.
An excellent 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice was adapted for television by Andrew Davies of the B.B.C. in which Austen’s romance, drama and humor are captured, and this is available on video.
Somerset Maughan said of her, that she had at her command the most precious gift a novelist can possess –
that of keeping the reader’s interest.