Jane Austen has become increasingly popular after the 1995 Pride & Prejudice BBC adaptation with Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. The six-episode adaptation started a fever of productions based in Austen’s books, from TV series that follow the plot of the books to adaptations of the stories to modern days, like the now popular The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and twists like the TV series Lost in Austen. Jane Austen probably (we could even say for sure) never imagined that her works would become so popular and that her name would be known and admired all over the world.Born on December 16th, 1775, in the Steventon parsonage, Hampshire, England, Jane Austen was the seventh child of eight children. The Austen family was not rich, but they lived comfortably enough on the clergyman’s salary of Reverend George Austen and the supplementary earnings with the farm and a boys’ school run by Austen’s father and mother.
Jane Austen had six brothers and just one sister, Cassandra, who would be her best friend throughout her life. The two sisters went to boarding school together to receive what was, at the time, the education deemed appropriate for girls (music, languages, drawing, painting, etc.) After returning from school Austen began writing and was supported in this by her family who enjoyed listening to her stories.
After her father’s death in 1805, Jane Austen found herself in precarious financial situation with her mother and sister, both named Cassandra. They were forced to move many times until they finally settle in a cottage in Chawton that was owned by her brother Edward. At this time, Austen began working on her writings again and 1811 Sense and Sensibility was published with the authorship identified only as By a Lady.
The book was very successful and was followed by Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1815 and Northanger Abbey and Persuasion that were published posthumously in 1818.
Jane Austen never married. She received a marriage proposal which she accepted, but changed her mind on the next day and refuse the young man. This is something for which we should be grateful, as a married woman Austen would probably not have published so many books and we would be missing out in these great works of the English literature.
The author died on July 17th, 1817, supposedly from Addison’s disease, leaving behind an unfinished novel, Sandition, with only eleven chapters.
Although her works are seen as merely romantic novels by many people, it is indisputable that her books are full of irony and witty criticism of the 19th century English society. The world of marriage and the rules involved in the process are explored and criticized in her novels. The mistaken assumptions of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy in Pride and Prejudice show that social standings are not enough to make a person less susceptible to character faults. In Northanger Abbey, Austen wittily criticizes the reaction of the public to the popular gothic novels of the time. These are just two examples of the words between the lines of her works, we can find much more if we look closely enough.
This year we celebrate the the bicentenary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice. The novel was first published in 28 January 1813. I will write more about the novel soon.
I’ll eventually write a bit more about each of her novels. This was just a brief biography so that we can know a little more about such an important name on the English literature canon.
Based on my readings of:
Hannon, Patrice. 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Jane Austen. Adams Media: Avon. 2007. Print.
Dickson, Rebecca. Jane Austen: An Illustrated Treasury. Metro Books: New York. 2008.