Jane Austen

Novelist of the Romantic Period

Jane Austen
Jane Austen. Stock Montage / Archive Photos / Getty Images

Jane Austen Facts:

Known for: popular novels of the Romantic period
Dates: December 16, 1775 - July 18, 1817

About Jane Austen:

Jane Austen's father, George Austen, was an Anglican clergyman, and raised his family in his parsonage. Like his wife, Cassandra Leigh Austen, he was descended from landed gentry that had become involved in manufacturing with the coming of the Industrial Revolution. George Austen supplemented his income as a rector with farming and with tutoring boys who boarded with the family.

The family was associated with the Tories and maintained a sympathy for the Stuart succession rather than the Hanoverian.

Jane was sent for the first year or so of her life to stay with her wetnurse. Jane was close to her sister Cassandra, and letters to Cassandra that survive have helped later generations understand the life and work of Jane Austen.

As was usual for girls at the time, Jane Austen was educated primarily at home; her brothers, other than George, were educated at Oxford. Jane was well-read; her father had a large library of books including novels. From 1782 to 1783, Jane and her older sister Cassandra studied at the home of their aunt, Ann Cawley, returning after a bout with typhus, of which Jane nearly died. In 1784, the sisters were at a boarding school in Reading, but the expense was too great and the girls returned home in 1786.

Writing

Jane Austen began writing, about 1787, circulating her stories mainly to family and friends.

On George Austen's retirement in 1800, he moved the family to Bath, a fashionable social retreat. Jane found the environment was not conducive to her writing, and wrote little for some years, though she sold her first novel while living there. The publisher held it from publication until after her death.

Marriage Possibilities:

Jane Austen never married. Her sister, Cassandra, was engaged for a time to Thomas Fowle, who died in the West Indies and left her with a small inheritance. Jane Austen had several young men court her. One was Thomas Lefroy whose family opposed the match, another a young clergyman who suddenly died. Jane accepted the proposal of the wealthy Harris Bigg-Wither, but then withdrew her acceptance to the embarrassment of both parties and their families.

1805 - 1817:

When George Austen died in 1805, Jane, Cassandra, and their mother moved first to the home of Jane's brother Francis, who was frequently away. Their brother, Edward, had been adopted as heir by a wealthy cousin; when Edward's wife died, he provided a home for Jane and Cassandra and their mother on his estate. It was at this home in Chawton where Jane resumed her writing. Henry, a failed banker who had become a clergyman like his father, served as Jane's literary agent.

Jane Austen died, probably of Addison's disease, in 1817. Her sister, Cassandra, nursed her during her illness. Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Novels Published:

Jane Austen's novels were first published anonymously; her name does not appear as author until after her death.

Sense and Sensibility was written "By a Lady," and posthumous publications of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were credited simply to the author of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. Her obituaries disclosed that she had written the books, as does her brother Henry's "Biographical Notice" in editions of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Juvenilia were published posthumously.

Novels:

  • Northanger Abbey - sold 1803, not published until 1819
  • Sense and Sensibility - published 1811 but Austen had to pay the printing costs
  • Pride and Prejudice - 1812
  • Mansfield Park - 1814
  • Emma - 1815
  • Persuasion - 1819

Jane Austen's Family:

  • Father: George Austen, Anglican clergyman, died 1805
  • Mother: Cassandra Leigh
  • Siblings: Jane Austen was the seventh of eight children.
    • James, also a Church of England clergyman
    • George, institutionalized, disability uncertain: may have been mental retardation, may have been deafness
    • Henry, banker then Anglican clergyman, served as Jane's agent with her publishers
    • Francis and Charles, fought in the Napoleonic wars, became admirals
    • Edward, adopted as heir by a wealthy cousin, Thomas Knight
    • older sister Cassandra (1773 - 1845) who also never married
  • Aunt: Ann Cawley; Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra studied at her home 1782-3
  • Aunt: Jane Leigh Perrot, who hosted the family for a time after George Austen retired
  • Cousin: Eliza, Comtesse of Feuillide, whose husband was guillotined during the Reign of Terror in France, and who later married Henry

Selected Jane Austen Quotations

• For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?

• About history: The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars and pestilences in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all — it is very tiresome.

• Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.

• One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.

• A woman, especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.

• One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty.

• If there is anything disagreeable going on men are always sure to get out of it.

• What strange creatures brothers are!

• A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.

• Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure to be kindly spoken of.

• It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

• If a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him. If she can hesitate as to Yes, she ought to say No, directly.

• It is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should refuse an offer of marriage.

• Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!

• Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.

• Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer lived; which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments.

• I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me that trouble of liking them.

• One does not love a place the less for having suffered in it unless it has all been suffering, nothing but suffering.

• Those who do not complain are never pitied.

• It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?

• From politics, it was an easy step to silence.

• A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.

• It is very difficult for the prosperous to be humble.

• How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!

• ... as the clergy are, or are not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.

• ... the soul is of no sect, no party: it is, as you say, our passions and our prejudices, which give rise to our religious and political distinctions.

• You ought certainly to forgive them as a Christian, but never to admit them in your sight, or allow their names to be mentioned in your hearing.