Date of Birth: December 16, 1775
Jane Austen was a Georgian-era author whose written works on love within the early 19th century English gentry made her one of the most revered authors in modern literature. Her novels, including the bestselling Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, have long been considered literary classics.
Born in Steventon, Hampshire, England, Jane was the seventh child and second daughter to Cassandra and Reverend George Austen. While her father was an Oxford-educated Anglican rector, both her parents were of gentry backgrounds, as well as well-respected members of their community.
In addition to working at the rectory, Mr. Austen took up farming and teaching in order to earn more money. Through their struggles, theirs became an unusually tight-knit family unit, with Jane herself forming an incredibly close bond with her father.
To acquire a more formal education, eight-year-old Jane and her elder sister Cassandra, with whom she was also particularly close, were sent to boarding school. While there, the two sisters contracted typhus, which nearly killed the young Jane. Because of this and several financial strains, she and Cassandra returned home to live with their family indefinitely.
After returning home, the rest of Jane's education centered around what Mr. Austen and her older brothers could teach her. She and her siblings were encouraged to read their father's extensive book collection, and Jane took full advantage of the privilege.
Jane was very lucky in that she was raised in a very liberal household that stressed constant learning and creative thinking. It became quite common for the Austen household to put on home-based productions of existing plays, or even creations of their own.
By 1787, she began writing in bound notebooks, with her father providing her with a constant supply of books, paper and writing tools. Her notebooks consisted of stories of poems that focused on the comings and goings of the world around her. By the time she was 14, she had already penned the dark and satirical novel Love and Friendship, which has since been adapted into a 2016 film starring Kate Beckinsale.
The next year she wrote a 34-page parody of historical writing titled The History of England... and included drawings by her sister Cassandra. This and her other short stories and poems are now referred to as her Juvenilia. Even in her earliest works, she showcased a sharp wit and a strong disdain for any sort of romanticism or sensibility, something that would differentiate her from her contemporaries.
Jane continued to write throughout her early adulthood, which was also spent participating in activities typical of women in her social standing: running the family home, attending church and various cotillions, and socializing with neighbors and friends. Between 1793 and 1795, she wrote Lady Susan, a short epistolary story about a selfish and unscrupulous heroine who uses her charm and sexuality to secure herself and her daughter a husband. Around this time she began a brief dalliance with a young barrister by the name of Tom Lefroy. However, because neither were worth much money at the time, Lefroy’s family sent him away to meet a more practical match and Jane never saw him again.
Next she wrote her first full-length novel, a series of letters between sisters titled Elinor and Marianne, which would later be called Sense and Sensibility. In 1796, at just 20, she began working on a draft of a novel called First Impressions, about a middle-class country girl who falls for a wealthy estate owner, which she finished the following year. It was later published as Pride and Prejudice. Next, in mid-1798, she began working on the Gothic satire Susan, which was renamed Northanger Abbey.
In 1801, Jane moved from Steventon to Bath with her sister Cassandra, her father, and her mother after her father announced his retirement from the ministry. Mr. Austen eventually died in 1805, which sent the family into financial distress. The three women were forced to move from place to place, until in 1809 they were able to settle into Jane's brother Edward's cottage in Chawton. In order to earn an income, Jane agreed to begin publishing her novels under a pseudonym, with the help of her brother Henry and publisher Thomas Egerton. Her first published work was Sense and Sensibility in 1811, which received generally favorable reviews and became fashionable among opinion-makers of the time. What followed was the widely popular and lucrative Pride and Prejudice in 1813, followed by Mansfield Park and Emma in 1815, which were the last novels published during her lifetime.
In early 1816, Jane began to feel unwell. Despite her illness, she continued working, rewriting the ending to The Elliots and beginning work on her next novel, titled The Brothers (which would be published posthumously as Sandition). Her condition continued to deteriorate throughout the following year, and she eventually died on July 18, 1817 at the age of 41. Her exact cause of death remains unclear even today, with some reports claiming it was Addison's disease, while others attribute it to Hodgkin's lymphoma. She is buried in the Winchester Cathedral in Winchester, United Kingdom.
The reverence for Jane's work has lived on far beyond her 41 years on Earth. Although her work remained relatively unrecognized throughout much of her life, the avid appreciation for her novels has since become widespread. Her novels began to gain popularity around the late 19th century, with scholars and media hailing her as the most subversive writer of her time. In the early 1920s she quickly became an internationally-recognized name when scholars took note of her unique genius in various publications and essays, and publishers began republishing her work.
Today Jane Austen is considered one of the foremost English writers in the modern era, with most of her novels being adapted into a television or film projects, whether it's 1996's Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow, the 1995 Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility for Emma Thomson’s screenplay, and the critically acclaimed Mansfield Park in 1999. Her self-proclaimed “darling child,” and arguably her most lauded piece of writing — Pride and Prejudice — has been adapted a whopping 13 times, from the 1940 film starring Sir Laurence Olivier to the Emmy-winning 1995 miniseries Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle as the precocious Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as the stoic Mr. Darcy, to the Oscar-nominated 2005 film Pride & Prejudice, or, the even more loosely adapted romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary (2001).
In a 2002 poll conducted by the BBC, the British public voted Jane Austen No. 70 on a list of "100 Most Famous Britons of All Time." In Bath, where Jane spent her final years, there is a Jane Austen Centre, where tourists from all over the world can learn about the legendary author. Countless biographies have been written about her, and her extraordinary life was depicted (including her brief romance with Tom Lefroy) on the silver screen in 2007 by director Joe Wright in the drama Becoming Jane, with Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway as the titular Jane.