Jane Austen: Novelist known for wit, realism
Credited with giving birth to the modern period of English literature, her novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma, that were set among the English middle and upper classes, are noted for wit and observation of the early 19th century English society.Updated: Aug 16, 2019 11:14 IST
Born in Steventon, Hampshire, Jane Austen was the second daughter of George Austen and Cassandra nee Leigh Austen. Her father was a rector and scholar. Jane’s mother, a homemaker, was also known for writing impromptu verses. The seventh child in a family of eight — six boys and two girls — Jane’s sister Cassandra was her closest companion. She grew up in an affectionate family that provided her a conducive context for writing.
Jane’s earliest known writings, which dated from 1787 to 1793, included plays, verses, short novels and other prose. They showed that she engaged in a parody of other literary genres such as sentimental novel and light prose. Her writing took a serious turn with the novel Lady Susan.
Although published in 1871, it was written in 1793 and was one of her first works. Jane began writing Sense and Sensibility around 1795 as a novel-in-letters titled Elinor and Marianne. Between 1796 and 1797, she completed the first version of Pride and Prejudice, that was called First Impressions.
Road to Success
In 1801, her father retired as rector. For the next few years, the family had to put up with a succession of temporary lodgings. In the middle of this chaos, Jane began writing The Watsons around 1804 but soon abandoned it. In 1804, her friend, Anne Lefroy, died suddenly. A few months later in January 1805 her father too passed away.
After this, Jane settled in Southampton with her mother and sister, where they stayed until 1809, when her brother Edward provided a cottage in Chawton village for them. The stability gave Jane a renewed sense of purpose and she began preparing her works for publication. Her other brother Henry offered to act as her agent to the publishers.
Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility, which came out anonymously in 1811. Two leading publications of the time commended the book for its blend of instruction and amusement. Meanwhile, Jane had begun writing Mansfield Park, which she completed in 1813. The novel was published in 1814, by when she had become an established, though anonymous, author.
Between January 1814 and March 1815, she wrote Emma, which was published in December 1815. In 1816, the second edition of Mansfield Park was published, by Lord Byron’s publisher John Murray. Her last two works, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, were published posthumously in 1817.
Death & legacy
In the last 18 months of her life, Jane spent most of her time writing - until August 1816 she was occupied with Persuasion, after which the manuscript of Susan kept her busy. Her health also began to deteriorate around this time. Although she travelled to Winchester to receive treatment, she died there on July 18, 1817 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Her brother Henry supervised the publication of her last works and also made it public to the world that it was indeed Jane who had written those as well as her earlier works. While Jane and her works largely remained unappreciated throughout her life, they have since gained recognition as literary classics. Full of wit and realism, the timelessness of her style, continues to appeal to readers.
1.Austen transformed stories of unremarkable people and situations into remarkable works of art. Her works are famous for their precision and the skillfulness of her characterisation and storytelling.
2.Through her six novels, she created vivid fictional worlds, drawing much of her material from the circumscribed world of English country gentlefolk that she knew, and had met during her life.
3.Most of her amateur writings which have survived have been published in three manuscript notebooks titled: Volume the First, Volume the Second, and Volume the Third.
4. In 1803, the manuscript of Susan (later Northanger Abbey) was sold to publisher Benjamin Crosby for £10. He agreed to publish it and even advertised this, but it was still not printed during Jane’s lifetime.
5.The Prince Regent (later George IV) enjoyed Jane’s work so much that he had a set in each of his residences. Emma, at a discreet royal command, was “respectfully dedicated” to him.
Sources: Britannica, BBC and JAneausten.org
First Published: Aug 16, 2019 11:13 IST