Jane Austen

Jane Austen, author of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Portrait by her sister, Cassandra Austen © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen © National Portrait Gallery, London

Biography

Rich in comedy, romance, wit and satire, Jane Austen’s six novels are also pin-sharp reflections of her social and geographical milieu in and around Hampshire, Bath and Dorset. 

The daughter of a Hampshire clergyman, Austen was born at Steventon Parsonage on 16 December 1775. The seventh of eight children, she grew up in a happy and close-knit family, and the careers and families of her brothers (two clergymen, two admirals, and one adopted by wealthy relations) inform her stories. She started writing at a young age, and her juvenilia includes dramatic sketches, spoofs and poems. Friends and family circulated her writings and wooed publishers, but it was over a decade before Sense and Sensibility (1811) went into print, soon followed by Pride and Prejudice (1813), which she called ‘my own darling child’. In his journal, Sir Walter Scott contrasted her ‘exquisite touch’ with his own ‘Big Bow-Wow’ approach, praising the way she made ‘commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment.’[1]

Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice both revolve around sisters, and Austen’s loving alliance with her only sister Cassandra lasted all her life. Both Jane and Cassandra had romances, but, like Austen’s heroines, refused to marry for the sake of it. They remained single, supporting their mother after the death of their father in 1805.

In 1809, Austen moved with her mother and her sister to Chawton, a tranquil Hampshire village. There, in a house given to them by her wealthy brother Edward, Austen spent her happiest years. All six of her novels date in their finished form from this period. Mansfield Park was published in 1814 and Emma, with its heroine whom Austen half-jokingly predicted 'no one but myself will much like', in 1815. 

Austen died, aged only 41, on 18 July 1817, leaving the subtle Persuasion and her Gothic satire Northanger Abbey to be published later that year.


[1] Walter Scott, The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, March 1826.