Many people laud Jane Austen as one of the most prominent and influential novelists of the 19th century, if not of all time.
Literature classes worldwide include Austen’s work in their courses. And Austen’s keen observation of human nature and manners has captivated audiences for centuries.
But who was Jane Austen? Let’s find out.
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An early start with reading, writing
Born on Dec. 16, 1775, in Steventon, England, Jane Austen was the seventh child of a clergyman, George Austen. Her parents were part of the landed gentry, meaning they were well-respected and educated but didn’t have the same wealth as aristocrats.
Due to her family’s relatively modest means, Jane’s educational opportunities were limited. Nevertheless, her father encouraged Jane and her siblings to read widely, exposing them to the works of English writers such as John Milton and William Shakespeare. Additionally, he hired tutors for his children in subjects such as French and music.
At 12, Jane Austen began writing small stories and poems for her family’s entertainment. She wrote her earliest works in notebooks that Austen called “Volume the First” and “Volume the Second.” They included parodies of popular books and original stories.
By 1793, Austen was working on a novel-length work titled Love and Friendship, which she completed by 1795. Austen followed this work with another unfinished novel, The Watsons, which she started writing in 1804.
It wasn’t until 1811 that Austen published her first full-length book—Sense and Sensibility—an instant success with critics and readers alike.
Jane Austen’s first novel
Thomas Egerton published Sense and Sensibility, which follows two sisters—Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. They deal with the social conventions of early 19th-century England while trying to find romance.
Jane Austen’s name wasn’t on Sense and Sensibility when the book first appeared. At that time, most people didn’t respect female writers, so Austen chose to avoid judgment and criticism by printing her work with no name attached.
Though her name was missing from the first edition of Sense and Sensibility, Austen put great effort into the novel. She heavily revised the original version of Sense and Sensibility before Egerton published it. Austen added a preface and removed some sections that she felt didn’t fit with the story’s overall theme.
The themes of love and money reverberate throughout the novel, as do sharp social commentary on women’s societal roles. Jane Austen’s characters are nuanced, complex individuals who make decisions based on emotions and moral convictions. This combination of realism and satire drew readers in from much of the English-reading world.
The first edition of Sense and Sensibility sold out of its entire printing within weeks. Its popularity was so great that a second print run had to be ordered soon after the original release. This initial success for Jane Austen provided her with much-needed financial security and encouraged her to continue writing more novels.
The story of Pride and Prejudice
With the success of Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen returned to a novel she started writing in 1796.
That book, First Impressions, came out in 1813. We know the novel today as Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice tells the story of the five daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, a middle-class family living in early 19th-century England. Elizabeth Bennet, the Bennet’s second daughter, is the novel’s protagonist. She’s an intelligent young woman with a sharp wit who isn’t afraid to challenge societal norms.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”Pride and Prejudice
Austen published the novel anonymously, as she was still worried about public opinion toward female authors.
Pride and Prejudice received positive reviews when it first came out. Critics praised the book for its wit, observations of human nature, and strong characterization.
The continued popularity of Pride and Prejudice is impressive. It’s been adapted into many plays, TV programs, films, video games, and even a Bollywood movie. No other book from the 19th century has likely had such enduring appeal to modern audiences.
Jane Austen’s final years
Jane Austen continued to write novels after the success of Pride and Prejudice. Her next book, Mansfield Park, came out in 1814. The story dealt with themes such as social mobility, class prejudice, and religious hypocrisy.
In 1815, she completed Emma, which follows a privileged young woman who seeks to control the lives of those around her and learns the value of humility in the process.
Austen’s final two novels were Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. However, they were not published until after her death on July 18, 1817, at 41. While the exact cause of her death remains unknown, some speculate that Jane Austen had Addison’s Disease.
A Literary Legacy
Jane Austen published only four novels during her lifetime – Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma.
And during her time, Austen’s works received critical acclaim and sold well. But Jane Austen’s wit, vivid characters, and ability to translate the human experience onto the page make her one of the most-read authors today.
Austen may have written her books more than 200 years ago, but their insights into human nature, razor-sharp wit, and timeless themes continue to captivate readers.
Whether you’re a casual reader or a lifelong fan, there’s no denying the lasting impression that Jane Austen has made on literature, culture, and the world at large.
Books by Jane Austen
- “Sense and Sensibility” (1811)
- “Pride and Prejudice” (1813)
- “Mansfield Park” (1814)
- “Emma” (1815)
- “Northanger Abbey” (1818, posthumously published)
- “Persuasion” (1818, posthumously published)
See Jane Austen’s works on Amazon.