Jane Austen, a Keen Observer Always with a Twinkle in the Eye

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

On December 16, 1775, English novelist Jane Austen was born. She is considered to be one of the most widely read writers in English literature. I do really like Jane Austen’s novels for many years now, esp. her ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ and also ‘Emma‘ or ‘Nothanger Abbey‘ which all of them I can recommend to you if you haven’t read them up to now. I like Jane Austen’s style of narration, always with a little twinkle in her eye, but nevertheless exposing biting social commentary.

Jane Austen was born on December 16,  1775, at Steventon rectory near Basingstoke, in Hampshire, among a family of six brothers and one sister to Reverend George and Cassandra Austen, a family of the lower ranks of the landed gentry. Jane was educated mainly at home and never lived apart from her family. She had a happy childhood amongst all her brothers and the other boys who lodged with the family and whom Mr Austen tutored. To amuse themselves, the Austen children wrote and performed plays and charades, and even as a little girl Jane was encouraged to write. In order to acquire a more formal education, Jane and her older sister Cassandra were sent to boarding schools in 1783. During this time, Jane and her sister caught typhus, with Jane nearly succumbing to the illness.

Ever fascinated by the world of novels and stories, Jane began to write in bound notebooks and at age 14 she started to craft her own novels and wrote “Love and Freindship”, a parody of romantic fiction organized as a series of love letters. Using that framework, she unveiled her wit and dislike of sensibility, or romantic hysteria, a distinct perspective that would eventually characterize much of her later writing. In 1795, Austen met Tom Lefroy, the nephew of their neighbors at Steventon. He had just finished a university degree and was moving to London to train as a barrister. According to her letters to Cassandra, Austen spent a great deal of time with Tom Lefroy and may have had romantic feelings for him. Unfortunately, a marriage between the two was impractical, and LeFroy’s family soon sent him away. After her brief romance with Lefroy, Austen began work on a novel entitles “First Impressions”, which would later become “Pride and Prejudice”. Austen then began a serious revision of her the initial sketches for “Sense and Sensibility”, as well as working on a satire on the Gothic literary genre called “Northanger Abbey”, where her own delight in reading and her ironic mocking of its impact on young girls comes very much alive.

After Reverend Austen announced his retirement from the ministry in 1801 the Austen family moved to Bath. Austen’s mixed feelings about moving from her childhood home was clear by her sudden lack of productivity as a writer. While in Bath, Jane received her only marriage proposal: from Harris Bigg-Wither, the younger brother of family friends and an Oxford graduate six years her junior. Although he was apparently unremarkable both physically and intellectually, his considerable fortune made him an attractive bachelor. Austen accepted initially, but changed her mind the following day and rescinded her promise. For Austen, turning down the marriage proposal was a significant decision, since marriage would have freed her from the embarrassing situation of being dependent on her family.

After Austen’s father died in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister Cassandra lived in a small house provided by her then-wealthy brother Edward in the village of Chawton. During her time at Chawton, Jane Austen successfully published four novels, which were generally well-received. Through her brother Henry, the publisher Thomas Egerton agreed to publish “Sense and Sensibility” ,which appeared in October 1811. Austen’s heroines are determined to marry wisely and well, but romantic Marianne of Sense and Sensibility is a character, who feels intensely about everything and loses her heart to an irresponsible seducer. “I could not be happy with a man whose taste did not in every point coincide with my own. He must enter into all my feelings; the same with books, the same music must charm us both.

Jane died in 1817, aged only 41. She died of Addison’s disease, a disorder of the adrenal glands. She was buried at Winchester Cathedral. And, even though Austen passed away at the early age, her novels remain an intricate part of any academic study program of English Literature. And, many of her novels have become successful movies,

At yovisto, you may enjoy ‘Powers of Persuasion‘, a lecture by April Bernard discussing Jane Austen’s final novel “Persuasion“, published posthumously in 1818. It is perhaps most directly expressive of her feelings about her own life.

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