Ondertexts
Jane Austen
Search

Jane Austen

Jane Austen Jane Austen[2†]

Jane Austen, born on December 16, 1775, and died on July 18, 1817, was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique, and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century[1†][2†]. Her realism, biting irony, and social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics[1†][2†].

Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry[1†]. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading[1†]. The steadfast support of her family was critical to Austen’s development as a professional writer[1†].

Austen’s works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism[1†][2†]. Her novels, including “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “Emma,” remain as popular today as they were two centuries ago[2†]. Her sharp and witty exploration of the lives of English women in the 19th century is timeless, offering insights that are as relevant in today’s world as they were in her own time[2†].

Despite her short life, Austen’s impact on the literary world is remarkable[2†]. Her works continue to inspire adaptations in the form of films, TV series, and books[2†]. Her use of biting irony, along with her realism, humor, and social commentary, have earned her acclaim among critics and scholars[2†]. With the publications of “Sense and Sensibility” (1811), “Pride and Prejudice” (1813), “Mansfield Park” (1814), and “Emma” (1815), she achieved success as a published writer[2†]. She wrote two additional novels, “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” both published posthumously in 1817, and began another, eventually titled “Sanditon,” but died before its completion[2†].

Austen’s works are considered classics of English literature and have been translated into multiple languages[2†]. Her timeless stories continue to capture the imaginations of readers worldwide, making her one of the most widely read and beloved writers in English literature[2†].

Early Years and Education

Jane Austen was born in the Hampshire village of Steventon, where her father, the Reverend George Austen, was rector[1†]. She was the second daughter and seventh child in a family of eight—six boys and two girls[1†]. Her closest companion throughout her life was her elder sister, Cassandra; neither Jane nor Cassandra married[1†]. Their father was a scholar who encouraged the love of learning in his children[1†]. Her mother, Cassandra (née Leigh), was a woman of ready wit, famed for her impromptu verses and stories[1†]. The great family amusement was acting[1†].

Jane Austen began to read and write at a very young age[1†][3†]. Sharing a close relationship with her father, she learned the basic skills at home[1†][3†]. To get a formal education, Jane, along with her sister, was sent to Oxford in 1783 to be educated by Miss Ann Cowley, where they stayed for a short time[1†][3†]. From 1785-6 they attended the Abbey House School in Reading, where they were taught writing, spelling, French, history, geography, needlework, drawing, music, and dancing[4†]. After this, their education was undertaken privately at home[4†]. Whilst their formal education was scanty, the girls were given unrestricted access to their father’s extensive library; its books instilled Jane’s lifelong love of reading[4†].

As the seventh child in the family, Jane was educated in part by her older brothers, two of whom were to become clergymen, while two others rose to the rank of admiral in the Navy, and yet another, Edward, was through adoption made a member of the landed gentry[5†].

Career Development and Achievements

Jane Austen began her writing career at a young age, creating poems, stories, and plays for her family’s amusement[1†]. However, it was her novels, published from 1811 onwards, that brought her renown[1†]. She published four novels during her lifetime: “Sense and Sensibility” (1811), “Pride and Prejudice” (1813), “Mansfield Park” (1814), and “Emma” (1815)[1†]. Two additional novels, “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey,” were published posthumously in 1817[1†]. These works, set among the English middle classes, are notable for their realism and biting social commentary[1†].

Austen’s popularity was modest largely because her works were published anonymously[1†][6†]. Her current renown can be traced to the 1940s when literary scholars began analyzing her work more closely and feminist critics, in particular, brought her achievements to light[1†][6†]. Despite the modest recognition during her lifetime, she paved the way for modern authors by creating a literary style that was widely adopted by a later generation of authors[7†].

Her novels defined the era’s novel of manners, but they also became timeless classics that remained critical and popular successes for over two centuries after her death[1†]. These works reflect her enduring legacy[1†].

First Publication of Her Main Works

Jane Austen’s first full-length novel, “Elinor and Marianne,” was later published under the title “Sense and Sensibility” in 1811[8†]. This novel, along with “Pride and Prejudice” (1813), “Mansfield Park” (1814), and “Emma” (1815), were published during her lifetime and brought her modest success[2†][9†]. Two other novels, “Northanger Abbey” and “Persuasion,” were published posthumously in 1817[2†][9†]. She also left behind three volumes of juvenile writings in manuscript, a short epistolary novel “Lady Susan,” and an unfinished novel "The Watsons"[2†].

Here is a list of her main works with the first year of publication:

Each of these works offers a unique perspective on the lives of women in the 19th century, their societal expectations, and the societal norms of the time[8†][2†]. They are celebrated for their wit, realism, and insightful social commentary[8†][2†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Jane Austen’s novels are celebrated for their wit, realism, and insightful social commentary[10†]. Her works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism[11†]. Her novels, including “Pride and Prejudice,” interpret, critique, and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century[11†].

Austen’s works are noted for their incisive wit and superb character delineation[11†]. Her stories show that women protagonists start to follow their true love despite various challenges from society, public stigma, and differences in class, strata, social, and monetary status which symbolize female self-awareness and sense of self-dignity[12†].

Her novels are interpretive, involving the effort to understand a particular work of art from a theoretical perspective and to establish its significance in the history of art[11†]. Through her treatment of ordinary people in everyday life, she was the first to give the novel its distinctly modern character[11†].

Personal Life

Jane Austen’s personal life was closely intertwined with her family. She never married and remained close to her family throughout her life[1†][2†]. Her closest companion was her elder sister, Cassandra, who also never married[1†][2†]. Their father, Reverend George Austen, was a scholar who encouraged the love of learning in his children[1†][2†]. The Austen family was fond of acting, and this lively and affectionate family circle provided a stimulating context for Austen’s writing[1†][2†].

Austen lived the last eight years of her life in Chawton[13†]. Her personal life continued to be limited to family and close friends, and she prized herself on being a warm and loving aunt as much as being a successful novelist[13†]. Despite never marrying, Austen had plenty of experience with love and marriage, topics she explored extensively in her novels[14†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Jane Austen’s literary legacy transcends space and time[15†]. Her early 19th-century books are still just as relevant and current today as they were back then[15†]. The continuing appeal of her art can be linked to a variety of aspects, which also add to her legacy[15†].

Austen was among the most intellectual, brilliant, and talented authors of her time[7†]. Even though her works were published posthumously and gave her little personal recognition during her time, she paved the way for modern authors by creating a literary style that was widely adopted by a later generation of authors[7†].

Two centuries after Jane Austen’s death, the early 19th-century English author’s words persist in our culture[6†]. Most literary academics can’t imagine discussing the modern novel without crediting Austen’s contributions to the art form[6†]. Her work falls so easily into dialogue not just with past literature but, strangely, with novels that had yet to be written[6†].

Austen’s writing stands out for its comedy, self-awareness, and realistic, detailed portrayals of characters and their relationships[6†]. “There is a level of intelligence in her work that the reader feels, and it has to do with her psychological perceptiveness and the sheer skill of her writing,” says Stanford English Professor Alex Woloch[6†].

Austen’s style set the stage for the movement of literary realism, which took off in the mid-19th century and included writers such as Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens[6†]. “Because Austen’s contributions have been so widely adopted and adapted by other authors, it can be easy to forget how groundbreaking her work really was,” says Elizabeth Wilder, an English PhD candidate[6†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Jane Austen [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Jane Austen [website] - link
  3. Literary Devices - Jane Austen [website] - link
  4. Jane Austen’s House - Jane Austen: A life [website] - link
  5. Springer Link - Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Jane Austen: Life and Background [website] - link
  6. Stanford News - Stanford literary scholars reflect on Jane Austen’s legacy [website] - link
  7. StudyCorgi - Jane Austen and Her Accomplishments [website] - link
  8. BookSeries - Jane Austen Books [website] - link
  9. ThoughtCo - A Timeline of Jane Austen Works [website] - link
  10. BookAnalysis - Themes and Analysis Pride and Prejudice By Jane Austen [website] - link
  11. Britannica - Jane Austen summary [website] - link
  12. Jane Austen’s Novels: A Study from Feminist Perspective [website] - link
  13. EduBirdie - Jane Austen: Personal Life And Works [website] - link
  14. History - Why Jane Austen Never Married [website] - link
  15. Tanvi Sethi - Jane Austen: A Literary Legacy of Wit, Wisdom, and Women [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.