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On this day in history in 1775, was born Jane Austen.

Austen was a writer who created the modern novel through her insight into human nature and her mastery of irony within the prose form.

Jane Austen was born on 16th December 1775, at the rectory, Steventon, Hampshire, daughter of the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. She received rudimentary private education from relatives until she was enrolled at Reading Ladies Boarding School, an institution not celebrated for its scientific expertise, and which therefore specialised in the arts. Here, Austen discovered that she had an uncanny ability for writing and for little else. After leaving this establishment, Austen returned to the rectory, residing with her parents and seven siblings, and enjoyed the world of the minor landed gentry, with its complex network of relationships, providing her with ample material for the subject matter of literary compositions.

Austen had no need to find an occupation as her father, rather like Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, had a substantial income, but unlike Mr Bennet, his wealth remained in the family when he died. Austen, therefore, led a life of moderate ease, supported by the family, and devoted her ample leisure time to writing on the characteristics and mores of her contemporaries. She was never married, although her diaries record that she received a proposal, which she rejected after some consideration. She possibly did not wish to marry on account of a recurring illness, now thought to be Addison’s Disease, although at the time unknown. It is also rumoured that she was in love with a young man who died suddenly, and she felt that she could marry no other. This theory possibly explains why an author, whose work is so deeply concerned with love and marriage, never married herself. After the death of her father in 1805, the family moved to Southampton until 1809, when they went to a house in Chawton, on the family estate. The house is now open to the public. [Jane Austen's House, Chawton, Alton, Hampshire, GU34 1SD]

Austen’s earliest known writing consist of three extant volumes of verse, plays and brief novels, which show her work developing from imitation of contemporary forms, to the exuberant prose for which her work is renowned. Her work matured with Sense and Sensibility, a shrewd commentary on middle class conventions, written 1795 and published 1811. Pride and Prejudice, published 1813, shows her in full command of the ironic form, as exemplified by the opening sentence: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’. Emma, published 1816, shows Austen’s capacity for realism, by going against the trend of popular fiction, and creating a heroine whose character is seriously flawed. Austen wrote in her journal that ‘I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like’.

Austen’s novels were widely read and even taken up by the Prince Regent, later George IV, who had a set in each of his residences, and who hinted that Emma should have a forward dedicating the novel to him. In 1817, Austen fell seriously ill and took to visiting sanatoria in search of a cure. At this time she wrote, Sanditon, a satire on health resorts and their clientele. She died on 18th July 1817, while seeking treatment at Winchester, and was buried in the cathedral. [Winchester Cathedral, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 0HJ]

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EXTERNAL LINK. Critique of Jane Austen at English Literature Essays

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