Jane Austen: Inside the Realm of the Iconic 18th Century English Writer
When the film Pride and Prejudice came out in 2005, it immediately became a worldwide success. Millions of people were caught up in the captivating story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. As both were so deeply in love with one another, they were too proud to confess their love.
The story effortlessly highlights pride as a significant element of our human nature. This is something we can all relate to at all times. Indeed, our ways of thinking, feelings, and personal struggles make us who we are. But when tangled with pride, they can also be the very thing that stops us from reaching what we want.
Digging a little deeper, we learn that the film was adapted from the 1813 classic novel, Pride and Prejudice, written by the English writer Jane Austen. Here one cannot help but wonder how genius this Jane Austen was anyway that she could write such a timeless story? How could she be so aware of the essence of being human? And why is she one of the greatest British writers of all time?
Well, that is precisely what we are doing today. So let’s explore the life of the iconic writer Jane Austen.
So let’s hop into it.
Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, UK. She was the seventh and the last child of George and Cassandra Austen. Her oldest brother, James, was 10 years old when she was born. Between James and Jane, there was George, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, and Francis, who was born in 1774.
Jane’s father, George Austen, was a clergyman at the Church of England. When he married his beloved Cassandra in 1764, they lived in a house that George’s uncle bought for him. That residence was at Deane, a small village northwest of Manchester.
With the arrival of the fifth child, Henry, in 1768, the family needed a bigger house. So they moved to Steventon. They resided in a parsonage gifted to George by his wealthy cousin. The parsonage was super large, with two floors, a farm, and a farmhouse.
Although George and Cassandra did enjoy some modest income, it was not enough to support the large family. So George took on farming as well as teaching alongside his work at the church.
Since the first years of her life, Jane displayed a true joy-loving spirit. She liked dancing and demonstrated a high level of sociability. She spent most of her time with her family, neighbours, and friends. Besides, she went to the church regularly and was on the call for any parties hosted by a friend or at the town halls.
As we will see later, Jane was destined for a prosperous childhood. This, along with her outgoing nature, enthusiasm for life, and education, paved the way for her later growth as a writer.
In 1783, seven-year-old Jane Austen and her older sister Cassandra were sent to Oxford to start their educational journey. Yet, they did not go to school, at least at first. Instead, both girls were sent to a distant relative of the Austens, Ann Cawley, to educate them.
In the autumn of that year, the Austen sisters caught a typhus infection and were sent back home. Jane almost died of that infection. When the both girls recovered, they were educated at home for the next year and a half.
First School Experience (1785-1786)
After receiving some proper elementary education at home for over a year, Jane and Cassandra were sent to the Reading Abbey Girls’ School in early 1785. Like most schools at the time, this was a boarding school where pupils used to study and live. They were not allowed to go back home except during the school’s official holidays.
Unlucky for them, the Austen sisters were not meant to spend more than two years at the school. The fees got too high for their family to afford. So they left school and went back home.
Mr Austen was very keen on his daughters’ education. After they were taken out of school, he saved no effort in homeschooling them. Jane, in particular, showed a growing desire for reading. So her father gave her access to his entire collection of books. He also guided her on what to read.
In addition, Mr Austen read what Jane wrote and gave her feedback about it. Even when he found any of these initial writings not as good, he still encouraged her to keep on writing.
What also impacted Jane’s fruitful educational journey was the performances she and the rest of her family used to do in the house’s farm building. Friends also joined Jane and her siblings in performing classical plays that were popular then.
Jane’s eldest brother, James, also showed an early interest in writing. So he was the one responsible for adapting the plays for acting. She probably participated in such an activity, which undoubtedly contributed to her literary development.
Most of these plays were comedy and sarcastic. So acting them out influenced Jane’s sense of humour and sarcasm. These two would later become indispensable elements of her writings.
Early Writings (1787-1793)
These writing and acting activities, as well as her readings, unique talent, and imagination, encouraged Jane to try on writing more seriously. So at the age of 11, she started writing poems and captivating short stories that took place in imaginary realms.
Another thing that made Jane’s writings, at that age, unique was her observations of how women were treated back then. She lived during the Georgian Era (1714 to 1830). During this time, women were only expected to be obedient wives and caring mothers.
For a free, full-of-potential spirit such as Jane’s, this was completely unfair and unacceptable.
That is why most of Jane’s early stories revolved around strong women living in fantasy worlds. She closely conveyed the conflicts between what was expected from them versus what they may have wanted to do. Yet, she did this in quite an uplifting manner rather than pity-eliciting.
During this five-year, feverishly productive period, Jane’s style witnessed noticeable development. So she continued making up stories which she later assembled in three separate notebooks, or volumes, under the name Juvenilia. Juvenilia contains a total of 29 works made of 90,000 words.
Among these 29 works was the History of England, which Jane wrote in 1791 at the age of 15. In this work, she combined humour and sarcasm to demonstrate the history of England between the 14th and 17th centuries. Her’s elder sister, Cassandra, helped her illustrate the stories with watercolour portraits.
First novella (1793-1795)
The first considerable complete work by Jane Austen was the novella—this is a short novel—Lady Susan, which she wrote aged 18. It was written in series and described as sophisticated as an early work can be. Again, she blended drama with sarcasm and portrayed an intelligent woman whose strong character was her means to get what she wanted.
Jane read the story to her family, and they loved it. However, for some unknown reason, she never submitted it for publishing, even after becoming a well-known author. Lady Susan was not published until over 50 years after Jane’s death.
Sense and Sensibility (1795)
It is not known for sure when Jane started working on her first novel. But it is thought to have been around 1795.
What later became one of the most famous novels of all time was initially titled Elinor and Marianne. But the title was then changed to Sense and Sensibility. The novel follows the story of two completely different but loving sisters who experience love, each in her own way.
Jane finished her first novel in 1796. But from late 1797 to mid-1798, she returned to it and revised it multiple times. For instance, one of her edits was changing the novel’s narration into the third person, which made it more engaging.
It was not until 1811 that Sense and Sensibility was published. Interestingly, or say strangely, Jane signed it ‘By a Lady’ instead of writing her real name.
Pride and Prejudice (1796-1797)
When Jane finished writing Ellianor and Marianne in 1796, she moved right away to write her second novel, which she initially called First Impressions. Thanks to her active imagination and high-paced writing, Jane could finish the first draft in less than a year.
In 1811, Jane returned to First Impressions for revision. This is about the same time when she changed its title to Pride and Prejudice, most probably inspired by Cecilia, an 18th-century novel by the English Writer Frances Burney.
Pride and Prejudice was again anonymously published in 1813 and signed ‘By the Author of Sense and Sensibility’. This was very common at the time as female writers were often judged for writing despite how excellent their works may have been. Sadly, none of Jane’s novels published during her lifetime carried her name.
The protagonist of Pride and Prejudice was Elizabeth Bennet, an intuitive young lady who enjoyed a strong, independent, and joyful character. Elizabeth would then meet Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, and both would fall in love with one another. However, they would not end up together unless they both learn to set their pride aside.
Northanger Abbey (1798-1799)
As we mentioned earlier, when Jane was done writing what later became Pride and Prejudice, she started revising Elinor and Marianne, or Sense and Sensibility. When she was done with that, she immediately started working on her third novel. That was in mid-1798 when Jane was only 23.
Like its precedents, Jane titled the novel Susan at first but changed it later to Northanger Abbey. In this novel, she satirised the horror literature that was popular at the time and known as Gothic novels. In 1799, she completed Northanger Abbey, but she did not fully revise it until 1803.
This year, Henry Austen, Jane’s older brother, sent the novel to a publisher from London for publication. The latter bought the novel’s copyright and advertised it but never published it.
After a lot of mutual correspondence, the publisher sold the book manuscript back to Henry in 1816. He was the one who renamed it Northanger Abbey. This novel was published in December 1817, already five months after Jane’s death.
A period of unproductivity (1800-1810)
Jane apparently was unaware of how attached she was to her life and family home in Steventon until her father decided to move the whole family to Bath, a city very far away from home, in 1800.
That negatively and unexpectedly affected Jane. She fell into depression, and her productivity declined gradually. Moreover, she seemed less and less interested in writing every day.
In 1804, Jane started a new novel, initially called The Watsons, but then she abandoned it and never really finished it. In early 1805, her beloved father suddenly passed away. Besides sadness and despair, Jane, her sisters, and her mom faced financial challenges.
As they could not afford the rent, the Austen ladies moved between different houses. They even left Bath for Worthing and then to Southampton in 1806. In 1809, Jane’s elder brother Edward offered them a country cottage in Chawton.
Back to writing (1811-1816)
Jane did not start writing again, at least more seriously, until 1811. After finding some stability living in the countryside, she started working on her fourth novel, Mansfield Park, and finished it in mid-1813.
Then she started her fifth novel Emma somewhere in 1814 and finished it in late 1815. Once she was done with it, she began Persuasion, her final book, and finished it in 1816.
During these five years, too, Jane became a published author. As we mentioned earlier, Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, and then Pride and Prejudice came out in 1813. In 1814, Mansfield Park saw the light, and in December 1815, Emma was published.
Both Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published in December 1817, combined into one book.
Jane believed in love, as anyone can clearly tell from her novels. Yet, despite the excellent portrayal of sentiment and the happy endings most of her romantic stories had, Jane herself was not meant to ‘live happily ever after’.
Jane lived a beautiful love story in her life, but it sadly did not end in marriage. She also received one marriage proposal but rejected it soon after accepting it.
In 1795, Jane met Tom Lefroy for the first time at a party. He was Irish and had just arrived in town for a short visit to his parents. They were attracted to each other after the first dance. So they started meeting frequently and spent more time together. It was clear that both Jane and Tom shared the same affection for each other.
However, they were not meant to be together. At the time, Tom did not have a proper job and could not afford to start a family. In addition, Tom’s family stepped into the scene and separated the two lovers. By sending Tom away, they prohibited any kind of connection between him and Jane. Consequently, the two lovers never saw each other again.
Seven years later, Jane received her first and last marriage proposal. It was from Harris Bigg-Wither, the brother of a distant friend of Jane’s elder sister, Cassandra.
Although Harris was far from attractive, quite aggressive, insensitive, and talked little or stuttered when he talked, Jane accepted his proposal. This is probably because the groom-to-be was to inherit a fortune which would allow Jane to help her family.
This, too, was the very reason why Jane withdrew her acceptance. She realised she could not marry a man she barely liked, only to benefit from his money. So she stepped back.
Jane’s health started to deteriorate in early 1816 but she did not care much and continued writing. But as the symptoms worsened, her productivity declined again. She expressed dissatisfaction with what she wrote during this period, which may have increased her suffering.
In March 1817, Jane stopped writing altogether. She could not walk, was in incredible pain, and had to stay in bed all the time. On 18 July 1817, Jane Austen took her final breath and was buried in the Winchester Cathedral.
Here we come to the end of today’s journey, where we explored the epic life of the amazing English writer Jane Austen.
In this article, we learned about Jane’s family, her childhood, and how her early writing and acting activities, combined with her reading, unique talent, active imagination, and sarcasm, made her such a genius writer.
Throughout her life, Jane had a long period of productivity during which she wrote and revised most of her famous work. This period was followed by a period of inactivity due to some turbulence in the author’s life. But then Jane could go back to writing again once she settled down and produced three more exceptional novels.
We hope you found this article interesting as much as we loved writing it for you. You can read about another 18th-century English writer, Charlotte Bronte, here. Or you can learn many more different things by visiting the World Around Us on our website.
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