Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A Short Biography of Jane Austen

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire. Her father was a reverend and they consequently lived in the village rectory, making their family popular within the local community. Jane was 7th among 8 siblings, namely; James, George, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, Frank, and Charles. James and Henry joined the clergy and Francis and Charles pursued careers in the navy. Edward was adopted at a young age and grew up to be the heir to a very large fortune. George, meanwhile, is considered to have been disabled and did not live with the Austen’s throughout his life. The only female offspring; Jane and Cassandra, were very close throughout their entire lives and never lived apart.

At the age of 8, Jane moved to Oxford and then to Southampton to be educated by a relative, Mrs Cawley. There was an outbreak in the town in which they were staying of ‘putrid fever’; probably Typhus. Both Jane and Cassandra fell ill and so returned back to Steventon. By age, 10 Jane had been sent to the Reading Ladies boarding school in the Abbey gatehouse in Reading, Berkshire, where she remained for over one year.

In 1789 she wrote her first novel, Love and Friendship (sic), amongst other very amusing juvenilia. By her early twenties, Jane Austen had written the novels that were much later to be published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. She also began a novel called The Watsons which was never completed.

In December 1795/January 1796, Jane Austen met and, possibly, fell in love with an Irishman called Tom Lefroy. He was visiting his aunt and uncle in Ashe, near Steventon, before going to London to study law. During this stay with his family, Tom and Jane met at four balls, enjoying many dances and discussions, particularly about literature. More specifically they discussed the novel Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. This novel is known to be a favourite of Tom Lefroy and many historians have found strong links between the Tom Jones and Jane Austen’s work, speculating that her memory and love for Tom Lefroy lingered throughout her entire life. The feelings that she had for this man may have acted as an inspiration for some of the characters and feelings she wrote about in her novels. He returned to London and then back to his hometown in Ireland where he later became Lord High Justice of Ireland.

In 1801, Jane moved with her parents and her sister Cassandra to Bath, which provides the setting for many of her novels. Within Bath the family moved many times and it is widely known that Jane did not enjoy her time here. To further contribute to her unhappiness at this time in her life, her beloved father died in 1805. This led to the next big move in the lives of the Austen women when they went to live in Southampton with Jane’s brother Frank and his family. Finally in 1809 they moved back to the country and settled in Chawton, Hampshire. It was at this residence that Jane Austen spent the remainder of her life. She was happy here and resumed writing; she produced her later three novels; Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion in Chawton.

In 1811, six years before her death, her first novel Sense and Sensibility was published, at the expense of her brother Henry. Next, Pride and Prejudice was published and although still anonymous (written "By a Lady"); the work of Jane Austen was gaining a literary reputation.

Jane contracted Addisons Disease, a tubercular disease of the kidneys, and on 18 July 1817 she died at the age of forty-one in the arms of her sister, Cassandra, and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.

First pic: JA silhouette
Second pic: young Tom Lefroy, possibly sketched by John Warren
Third pic: JA painting by Cassandra

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