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Jane Austen: Get the Particulars

22 Facts about Jane Austen

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Jane Austen (1775-1817), English novelist
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As critic Gary Kelly has observed, "Jane Austen is one of the few novelists in world literature who is regarded as a 'classic' and yet is widely read." Though her novels were by no means autobiographical, the facts of her life do shed light on her fiction -- and more importantly, they offer aspiring writers one model of how great works of literature are created.
  • The seventh child of George Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen, Jane Austen was born in Steventon, a village in southern England in 1775.

  • In her lifetime she completed six novels, including Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. Four of them were published before her death.

  • Her father George Austen, a clergyman, also ran a school for boys in the family home and parsonage to supplement the family's income.

  • Cassandra Leigh Austen was from a higher social rank than her husband and gave Jane Austen the sense of social class that underlies many of her novels. She did not seem to regret the fall in social standing, however, and was a cheerful wife and mother to the family.

  • In 1783, Jane Austen and her older sister Cassandra went to be educated by their aunt Ann Cooper Cawley, the widow of the head of an Oxford college. From there, they went on to Abbey School, a boarding school for girls. Apart from these years, Austen was educated by her father.

  • Austen honed her comic abilities by writing for her family, in particular her older, Oxford-educated brothers, whom she admired intensely. Though the entire family was literary, only Austen would become a published novelist.

  • An extremely shy girl, Jane Austen's family was the center of her world. Even at boarding school she made few friends, preferring Cassandra's company.

  • Austen gained her knowledge of life at sea -- important, for instance, in Persuasion -- through her brother Frank, who had a successful career in the British navy and was closest in age to Jane.

  • For her first love, Austen got a story worthy of one of her novels -- one that in fact has certain things in common with that of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. The object of her love, Tom Lefroy, was the Irish nephew of her close friend Anne Lefroy. Knowing that Tom would lose his inheritance if he married a "nobody," Anne Lefroy hurried Tom out of the county when the romance came to her attention. (Tom later became the Chief Justice of Ireland.)

  • While fans of the movie The Jane Austen Book Club might be encouraged to think, "What would Jane do?" in times of romantic crisis, her pursuit of Tom Lefroy, which violated the social mores of her time, indicates that she might not be the best choice. Cassandra was the sensible one, striving to keep Jane in check. Before the romance was broken off, Jane wrote her a teasing letter, "You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have at this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together."

  • At least one biographer hints that Jane Austen's cousin Eliza, Comtesse de Feuillide, provided a model for Elizabeth Bennett's vivacity and wit, though some of her actions more closely resemble Mansfield Park's worldly Mary Crawford. While visiting the Austens -- leaving her husband at home in France with his mistress -- Eliza flirted with two of Jane's brothers, Henry and James, in the course of putting on a play for the family. (Eliza's husband was guillotined during the French Revolution; she would in fact later marry Henry Austen.)

  • Austen's second notable romance occurred while the family was vacationing on the coast at Sidmouth in Devon in the summer of 1801. Austen apparently met and fell in love with a young clergyman, who made plans to meet the family again later in their travels (a good sign that he planned to propose). However, he died unexpectedly before he could join them. The incident strengthened the bond between the two sisters, as Cassandra had earlier lost her fiancé.

  • Jane Austen wrote an early draft of Sense and Sensibility in the early 1790s, and then revised it heavily before it was published in 1811. Likewise, sixteen years would pass between the time that her father first tried to get First Impressions published and the time that the novel appeared as Pride and Prejudice in 1813.

  • Northanger Abbey was acquired by a publisher in 1803, but was not published until after Austen's death.

  • Finances forced the Austens to leave Steventon for Bath, a change that upset Austen greatly. Some biographers assert that the situation hurt her writing, as she did not have a private place in which to write and was forced in Bath to socialize more than before.

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