About the Author

Portrait of Jane Austen

English writer, who first gave the novel its modern character through the treatment of everyday life. Although Austen was widely read in her lifetime, she published her works anonymously. The most urgent preoccupation of her young, well-bred heroines is courtship, and finally marriage. Austen's best-known books include Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1816). Virginia Woolf called her "the most perfect artist among women."

Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was a rector. She was the second daughter and seventh child in a family of eight. The first 25 years of her life Austen spent in Hampshire. She was tutored at home. Her parents were avid readers and she received a broader education than many women of her time. On her father's retirement, the family moved to Bath.

Austen started to write for family amusement as a child. Her earliest-known writings date from about 1787. Very shy about her writing, she wrote on small pieces of paper that she slipped under the desk plotter if anyone came into the room. After the death of her father in 1805, she lived with her mother and sister in Southampton and moved in 1809 to a large cottage in the village of Chawton. Austen never married, but her social life was active. She was connected with the middling-rich landed gentry that she portrayed in her novels.

In Chawton Austen started to write her major works, among them Sense and Sensibility, the story of the impoverished Dashwood sisters, Marianne and Elinor, who try to find proper husbands to secure their social position. The novel was written in 1797 as the revision of a sketch called Elinor and Marianne, composed when the author was 20. Austen's heroines are determined to marry wisely and well, but romantic Marianne 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." Reasonable Elinor falls in love with a gentleman already engaged. '"I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes," said Elinor, "in a total misapprehension of character in some point or another: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge."'

In all of Austen's novels her heroines are ultimately married. Pride and Prejudice described the clash between Elisabeth Bennet, the daughter of a country gentleman, and Fitzwilliam Darcy, a rich aristocratic landowner. Their relationship starts from dislike but at last they fall in love and are happily united. In 1998 appeared a sequel to the novel, entitled Desire and Duty, written by Teddy F. Bader, et al. It followed the ideas Jane Austen told her family. Emma was written in comic tone and told the story of Emma Woodhouse, who finds her destiny in marriage. During the story Emma, a snobbish young woman, develops into someone capable of feeling and love.

Austen focused on middle-class provincial life with humor and understanding. She depicted the life of minor landed gentry, country clergymen and their families, in which marriage mainly determined women's social status. Most important for her were those little matters, as Emma says, "on which the daily happiness of private life depends." Although Austen restricted to family matters, and she passed the historical events of the Napoleonic wars, her wit and observant narrative touch has been inexhaustible delight to readers. Of her six great novels, four were published anonymously during her lifetime. At her death on July 18, 1817 in Winchester, Austen was writing the unfinished Sanditon. Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral.

Austen's brother Henry made her authorship public after her death. Emma had been reviewed favorably by Sir Walter Scott, who wrote in his journal of March 14, 1826: "[Miss Austen] had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I have ever met with. The Big Bow-Wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me." Charlotte Brontë and E.B. Browning found her limited. It was not until the publication of J.E. Austen-Leigh's Memoir in 1870 that a Jane Austen cult began to develop. Austen's unfinished Sanditon was published in 1925.

Most author biographies courtesy of Author's Calendar. Used with permission.