Jane Austen was born December 16th, 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire, England (near Basingstoke). She was the seventh child (out of eight) and the second daughter (out of two), of the Rev. George Austen, 1731-1805 (the local rector, or Church of England clergyman), and his wife Cassandra, 1739-1827 (née Leigh). He had a fairly respectable income of about £600 a year, supplemented by tutoring pupils who came to live with him, but was by no means rich (especially with eight children), and (like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice) couldn't have given his daughters much to marry on.
Jane Austen did a fair amount of reading, of both the serious and the popular literature of the day. She frequently reread Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison, and also enjoyed the novels of Fanny Burney (a.k.a. Madame D'Arblay). She later got the title for Pride and Prejudice from a phrase in Burney's Cecilia, and when Burney's Camilla came out in 1796, one of the subscribers was "Miss J. Austen, Steventon". The three novels that she praised in her famous "Defense of the Novel" in Northanger Abbey were Burney's Cecilia and Camilla, and Maria Edgeworth's Belinda.
Jane Austen wrote her Juvenilia from 1787 to 1793; they include many humorous parodies of the literature of the day, such as Love and Friendship, and are collected in three manuscript volumes. They were originally written for the amusement of her family, and most of the pieces are dedicated to one or another of her relatives or family friends.
Earlier versions of the novels eventually published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey were all begun and worked on from 1795 to 1799 (at this early period, their working titles were Elinor and Marianne, First Impressions, and Susan respectively). Lady Susan was also probably written during this period. In 1797, First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice was offered to a publisher by Jane Austen's father, but the publisher declined to even look at the manuscript.
In 1803 Jane Austen actually sold Northanger Abbey (then titled Susan) to a publisher, for the far-from-magnificent sum of £10; however, the publisher chose not to publish it (and it did not actually appear in print until fourteen years later). It was probably toward the end of the Bath years that Jane Austen began The Watsons, but this novel was abandoned in fragmentary form.
In January 1805 her father died. In 1809 Jane Austen, her mother, sister Cassandra, and Martha Lloyd moved to Chawton, near Alton and Winchester, where her brother Edward provided a small house on one of his estates. This was in Hampshire, not far from her childhood home of Steventon. Before leaving Southampton, she corresponded with the dilatory publisher to whom she had sold Susan (i.e. Northanger Abbey), but without receiving any satisfaction.
She resumed her literary activities soon after returning into Hampshire, and revised Sense and Sensibility, which was accepted in late 1810 or early 1811 by a publisher, for publication at her own risk. It appeared anonymously ("By a Lady") in October 1811, and at first only her immediate family knew of her authorship: Fanny Knight's diary for September 28, 1811 records a "Letter from Aunt Cass. to beg we would not mention that Aunt Jane wrote Sense and Sensibility"; and one day in 1812 when Jane Austen and Cassandra and their niece Anna were in a "circulating library" at Alton, Anna threw down a copy of Sense and Sensibility on offer there, "exclaiming to the great amusement of her Aunts who stood by, 'Oh that must be rubbish, I am sure from the title'." There were at least two fairly favorable reviews, and the first edition eventually turned a profit of £140 for her.
Encouraged by this success, Jane Austen turned to revising First Impressions, a.k.a. Pride and Prejudice. She sold it in November 1812, and her "own darling child" (as she called it in a letter) was published in late January 1813. She had already started work on Mansfield Park by 1812, and worked on it during 1813. It was during 1813 that knowledge of her authorship started to spread outside her family; as Jane Austen wrote in a letter of September 25, 1813:
Henry heard P. & P. warmly praised in Scotland, by Lady Robert Kerr & another Lady;& and what does he do in the warmth of his brotherly vanity and Love, but immediately tell them who wrote it!
Since she had sold the copyright of Pride and Prejudice outright for £110 (presumably in order to receive a convenient payment up front, rather than having to wait for the profits on sales to trickle in), she did not receive anything more when a second edition was published later in 1813. A second edition of Sense and Sensibility was also published in October 1813. In May 1814, Mansfield Park appeared, and was sold out in six months; she had already started work on Emma. Her brother Henry, who then conveniently lived in London, often acted as Jane Austen's go-between with publishers, and on several occasions she stayed with him in London to revise proof-sheets. In October 1813, one of the Prince Regent's physicians was brought in to treat an illness that Henry was suffering from; it was through this connection that Jane Austen was brought into contact with Mr. Clarke.
In December 1815, Emma appeared, dedicated to the Prince Regent. A second edition of Mansfield Park appeared in February 1816, but was not a sales success; her losses on the reprint of Mansfield Park ate up most of her initial profits on Emma.
She had started on Persuasion in August 1815, and finished it in August 1816although during 1816 she was becoming increasingly unwell. In early 1816 her brother Henry's business went bankrupt; Edward lost £20,000.
In early 1817, she started work on another novel, Sanditon, but had to give it up in March. On April 27 she made her will (leaving almost everything to Cassandra), and on May 24 she was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there on Friday, July 18, 1817, at the age of 41. It was not known then what had caused her death, but it seems likely that it was Addison's disease. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral on July 24, 1817. Jane Austen (like Cassandra) never married.
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