Far back into the 20th century was born a worldwide author, who I look up to very much as I dream of becoming a writer, known as Jane Austen. Thousands of people know her most for the six books she had published: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and my personal favorite, Emma. However, other than her books, there is so much insight on Jane Austen during her life in the 1700’s and the 1800’s. Her life is not just a collection of books; it is full of family and romance, play writing and pleasure reading, looks and fashion, new life and death.
Over the years, the looks of Jane Austen were lost, so that even to this day no one truly knows what she looked like. In a biography written by Valerie Grosvenor Myer, Jane was a shy girl who was taller than norm and slender. Jane’s cousin, Phila, described her as, “…not at all pretty and very prim, unlike a girl of twelve” (39-40). A friend from Jane’s younger years described her as doll like in her face and her skin complexion. She was bright and full of humor. Jane’s nephew, James-Edward, found her very attractive. She had full round cheeks, a small nose and a small mouth, and hazel eyes that shined brightly. Her brown hair curled and formed perfectly around her face (Tomalin 108-109). And according to her niece Caroline, Jane’s face is the first to come when remembering something pretty (Laski 76).
Jane Austen made her entrance into the world on December 16th of 1775. She was baptized by her own father, but her official baptism took place the following year on April 5th (Myer 3). Though she attended church, Jane as well as her father found it unnecessary to be serious within its walls. On occasion her father would seek her help to put in entries inside the parish’s registry, such as weddings. To spice up the fun, Jane made a wedding entry where she was the bride and her husband was a man named Edmund Arthur William Mortimer from Liverpool. To show his acceptance of this fun, her father allowed these entries to be seen by all the parish members (Cecil 50). However, Jane never did marry, but it is not say to that she was never proposed to. The lad that Jane caught eyes for was Harris Bigg-Wither of Manydown. Jane and her sister, Cassandra were guests at their house for the winter season. During their stay Harris had proposed to Jane during the night and she eagerly accepted. However, by morning Jane spoke to Harris, declining his proposal (Laski 54). Even though Jane never married she did know this, “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor. Which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony” (“Jane Austen Books”).
Jane grew up with six brothers and one sister, so from the very beginning Jane and her sister, Cassandra became fast companions (Cecil 42). When Cassandra was nine and Jane was seven, it was time for Cassandra’s education to begin, but the girl’s father did not see himself as a qualified teacher for his daughters. Therefore, Cassandra had to be sent away to receive her education. Nevertheless, Jane was not about to be left behind. “‘If Cassandra’s head had been going to be cut off,’ declared their mother, ‘Jane would have hers cut off too’” (Myer 33). Therefore, in 1783 the two girls, along with their cousin, Jane Cooper, were sent to a woman named Mrs. Crawley. Mrs. Crawley was unfriendly and none of the girls liked her in the least. After some time, tragedy struck. Cassandra and her sister Jane fell ill with a high fever. Sadly, Mrs. Crawley refused to inform the girl’s parents. In the end, it was Jane Cooper who sent a letter to her own mother who then informed Mrs. Austen. Immediately the two mothers left home to collect their daughters.
Arriving at home, Jane became extremely ill and was facing deaths door; however, Jane was able to overcome the illness. The following year the Austen’s sent their girls to a new school instructed by Mrs. Latournelle. Here, the girls were more at peace and happy with their position. Each day was spent with at least three hours of lessons while the rest of the day was spent chatting away and relaxing outdoors. As Jane once stated, “To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment” (“Jane Austen Books”). The girls were even allowed to leave the grounds when their brothers or friends came to whisk them away for some pleasured fun (Cecil 43-44).
As Jane was a writer herself she had respect for a few authors of her time. She read novels of Fielding and Richardson, History of England by Goldsmith, Sherlock’s Sermons and Blair’s Rhetoric. She was exceptionally devoted to poetry written by Cowper. Often the whole family would gather together and read aloud to one another for pleasure. Not only was she a vivid reader she was also an actress. The house barn had been turned to a theater putting on The Rivals originally performed by Sheridan and then Matilda originally performed by Thomas Franklin. It became a regular occurrence to put on a play during the holidays when the whole family was together (Laski 25-27).
In the year of 1817, the middle of May, Jane had symptoms that the local doctor could not explain. On May 24th Jane and her sister Cassandra left for Winchester to see a doctor called Lyford. The doctor proscribed a treatment forcing her to stay at Winchester. She hardly had any pain, but she continued to grow weaker with each passing day. She was cheerful and still had a good sense of humor. Cassandra was constantly by her side. In July, Jane was once again facing deaths door. On July 18th, 1817, wrapped in her sister’s loving embrace, Jane passed from this world with a sweet calm enveloping her face. Cassandra gently closed her eyes and said her last goodbye. On July 24th, 1817 Jane was buried at the Winchester Cathedral (Cecil 195-198).
On the outside, people saw one side of this bright and intelligent young lady, but it was the inside and what she put on paper that truly made her famous. In the year of 1795, Jane began writing a novel called Elinor and Marianne later to be known worldwide as Sense and Sensibility. Near the end of 1796, it was fit enough for Jane to read to her family. The same year, she began writing another novel called First Impressions, later to be known worldwide as Pride and Prejudice. Around the year of 1798, Jane began writing another novel called Susan, later to be known worldwide as Northanger Abbey. Between the years of 1795 and 1798 as Jane was writing out these novels an attempt to publish Pride and Prejudice under the title First Impressions was made. However, the attempt was only futile and the young author became discouraged (Laski 48-52).
Nevertheless, Jane never stopped writing. In 1811, Jane had finished writing Elinor and Marianne, giving it a new title commonly known as Sense and Sensibility. At the beginning of this year she also began writing her novel Mansfield Park (Laski 78). In November of the same year, Sense and Sensibility was released by an author known as A Lady; Jane states herself why her book was not published under her name, “A woman, especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can” (“Jane Austen Books”). Between 700 and 1,000 copies of the book were sold in just twenty months (Laski 82). While she was working on Mansfield Park, her next book that was ready to be published was First Impressions, changing the title to Pride and Prejudice. By 1813, Pride and Prejudice was released to the public stating that it was by the same author as Sense and Sensibility, still keeping her identity a secret. Pride and Prejudice sold about 1,500 copies (Laski 84-85).
On January 21, 1814 she began writing the book I fell in love with, Emma. She had the idea of picking out a female character that was close to her own personality (Laski 96). In May of 1814, Mansfield Park was released to the public. It was known as the author of both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. It sold about 1,500 copies in six months (Laski 94). August of 1815 brought a new story idea to Jane, so she began another novel called Persuasion (Laski 108). December of 1815 brought about the publication of Emma. About 2,000 copies of the book were sold, half of that in one year (Laski 105). Sadly two of Jane’s books were published after her death. Her brother, Henry, took it in his charge to get Northanger Abbey and Persuasion published. The two books appeared together in December of 1817 and sold about 2,500 copies. It was then Henry revealed Jane Austen as the author of the famous books written by A Lady (Laski 121).
Years later Jane is remembered as one of the greatest writers. In 2002, she was voted number 70 on a list of 100 famous British people. However, she was first famously noticed in the 1920’s when other famous writers began looking into her writings. By doing so, her fame increased to the point that a fan club was started under the name, The Janeites. Four out of six of her books were made in to movies: Emma, though I must say I have not yet found a good rendition of the movie, Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park, starring Billie Piper (Bio.com).
In an interview with David Shapard, David was asked why he believes that, after so many years, Jane Austen still speaks to us today through her books. David replied by saying, “With her you have well-constructed plots, brilliantly delineated characters, interesting and profound themes, and superb language…people, in giving their reasons, have cited, among other things, her comedy, her poignant romances, her keen insight into human psychology, her careful depiction of society, and her moral messages…Her focus is on basic matters that people always have to deal with, whom to marry, how to relate to other people, how to judge right and wrong, how to cope with the difficulties of life. Her characters personality traits, feelings, relationships, and moral dilemmas are all ones that are still frequently found today, so the insights and lessons presented in her novels can still ring true today” (“Jane Austen in Vermont”). Though Jane Austen had a life outside of her world of books, it is from these books alone that made her famous to this very day as her books do continue to sell. And as my dream is to become a writer, I hope one day that I too will be famous even beyond my time through the words I have written on paper.