Jane Austen

Jane Austen.  Just saying her name brings a delighted smile to our faces, and we hope it does the same to yours.  She is unquestionably our favorite author, the most brilliant woman ever to put pen to paper.

Yet before we became the avid fans that we are today, we knew shockingly little about this wonderful lady.  Since we fear that some of you may suffer from the same deprivation, we shall do our best on this page to provide a remedy with all possible speed.

Jane Austen was the sixth child of the Rev. George and Cassandra Austen, born on December 16th, 1775 at the Steventon Rectory.  She was particularly close to her only sister, Cassandra (two years her senior).  When Cassandra went away to school in Southampton in 1782, seven-year-old Jane insisted on going too, prompting their mother to say that if Cassandra was going to have her head cut off, Jane would want hers cut off too.  But their stay at the Southampton school was short-lived--after contracting putrid sore throats, they returned home to Steventon and thence to the Abbey School in Reading.

As a young girl, Jane read voraciously.  Respectable people in the late Georgian era were not supposed to be fond of novels, but the members of the Austen family enjoyed them unashamedly.  Jane began writing her own stories at the age of twelve, many of which are preserved in her Juvenilia (which includes such side-splitters as Love and Freindship [sic] and Lesley Castle).  In 1795, she began work on an epistolary novel titled Elinor and Marianne, followed in 1796 by First Impressions.

In November of 1797, Mr. Austen offered First Impressions to a publisher friend, but the work was declined.  Apparently undaunted, Jane went right back to work and turned out the manuscript for Susan in 1798.  Upheaval struck the Rectory in 1800, however, for it was then that Mr. and Mrs. Austen decided to move to Bath.  Jane was not pleased, but there was nothing she could do.

Once the family was settled in Bath, they took a trip to Devonshire in the summer of 1801.  At Sidmouth, a seaside town, Jane met a young clergyman who seemed to take a sincere interest in her.  Sadly, very little is known of the relationship--Jane and Cassandra's letters from this period having been destroyed--and nothing came of the friendship because the gentleman died shortly after his encounter with the Austens.  (We trust this was not a direct result of his encounter with the Austens, though we know as much about the exact nature of his death as we do of his name, which is, in short, nothing.)

In December of 1802, Jane received a proposal of marriage (no, not from the seaside gentleman--he's dead, remember?).  She and Cassandra were staying with their friends the Bigg-Wither family, when Harris Bigg-Wither asked Jane to marry him.  She initially accepted but changed her mind the next morning, deciding that she and Harris (several years her junior) were not suited to one another.

Susan at last received some recognition from a publisher, who in 1803 purchased the manuscript for 10 pounds.  However, nothing came of the transaction, and Jane began another story, The Watsons, which was never finished.  Mr. Austen died in the beginning of 1805, and the Austen women were suddenly thrown into upheaval.  Left to depend on the kindness of their relations, they moved from Bath to Southampton in 1806 and from thence to Chawton in 1809 with a family friend, Martha Lloyd.

It was here in Chawton that Jane's literary endeavors finally began to meet with some success.  She revised Elinor and Marianne, re-titling it Sense and Sensibility, and it was published anonymously in 1811.  In 1813 her "darling child," as she called it--otherwise known Pride and Prejudice, the revised version of First Impressions--appeared in print.  Now her fame began to spread, little by little, as Mansfield Park came out in 1814 and she began work on Emma.

We will now interrupt this program to give you a full list of Jane Austen's works and the years in which they were published, so in case you are ever on Jeopardy! you will be able to volunteer that sort of information.

Sense and Sensibility - 1811
Pride and Prejudice - 1813
Mansfield Park - 1814
Emma - 1815
Persuasion - 1817 (published posthumously)
Northanger Abbey - 1817 - (ditto)

We now return you to your broadcast.  The Prince Regent himself bestowed Jane with his royal favor in 1815, when he magnanimously gaveher permission to dedicate her next novel to him.  Jane (with her tongue in her cheek, we are audacious enough to presume) published Emma with a dutiful dedication to His Highness.

But in 1816, Jane's health began to fail.  She wrote the manuscript for Persuasion and began another novel, Sanditon, but had to give up work on that.  In May of 1817 she went to Winchester for medical treatment and died there (perhaps from Addison's disease) on July 18th of the same year.  She was forty-one years old.

On her grave, the epitaph reads:
In memory of
youngest daughter of the late
formerly Rector of Steventon in this County.
She departed this Life on the 18th July 1817,
aged 41, after a long illness supported with
the patience and the hopes of a Christian.
The benevolence of her heart,
the sweetness of her temper, and
the extraordinary endowments of her mind
obtained the regard of all who knew her, and
the warmest love of her intimate connections.
Their grief is in proportion to their affection
they know their loss to be irreparable,
but in the deepest affliction they are consoled
by a firm though humble hope that her charity,
devotion, faith and purity have rendered
her soul acceptable in the sight of her

No mention is made on the tombstone of her beloved writings, but really there is no need.  So long as literature exists in this world, Jane Austen's sweet and simple yet brilliant and clever books will continue to delight readers for all time.

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