English novelist. She described her raw material as ‘three or four families in a Country Village’. Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, Pride and Prejudice in 1813, Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1816, and Northanger Abbey and Persuasion together in 1818, all anonymously. She observed speech and manners with wit and precision, and her penetrating observation of human behaviour results in insights that go beyond the limitations of the historical period. Many of her works have been successfully adapted for film and television.
Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was rector. She was sent to school in Reading with her elder sister Cassandra, who was her lifelong friend and confidante, but she was mostly taught by her father. In 1801 the family moved to Bath and after the death of her father in 1805, to Southampton, settling in 1809 with her mother and sisters in a house in Chawton, Hampshire, provided by her brother Edward (1768–1852). She died in Winchester, and is buried in the cathedral. Austen's novels reveal her to be a scrupulous and conscious artist who is consistently concerned with the accuracy of information used. This commitment to precision is mirrored in her precise use of language. Describing individuals coping with ordinary life and social pressures, she probes the centres of human experience, using a sharp, satiric wit to expose the follies, hypocrisies, and false truths of the world. Although she was a contemporary of Romanticism, her novels retain a certain classicism and detachment, always keeping a sense of proportion. Most involve a movement towards self-realization, felt particularly in Emma. Austen's plot is often conveyed by dialogue, which also reveals character.
Jane Austen began writing early; the burlesque (mockingly imitative) Love and Freindship (sic), published in 1922, was written in 1790. Between 1795 and 1798 she worked on three novels. The first to be published was Sense and Sensibility (rewritten 1797–98 from an earlier draft in letter form). Pride and Prejudice (written 1796–97) followed, but Northanger Abbey, a parody of the contemporary gothic novel (written in 1798, sold to a publisher in Bath in 1803, and bought back in 1816), did not appear until 1817. The fragmentary The Watsons and Lady Susan, written about 1806, remained unfinished. The small success of her published works, however, stimulated Jane Austen to finish Mansfield Park (1814), and to write Emma (1816), Persuasion (published 1818), and the final fragment Sanditon (1817, published in 1825).
Jane Austen's novels deal mainly with middle-class families, set usually in rural communities, though occasionally in a town, such as Bath. Her plots hinge mostly on the development of a love affair leading to the heroine's marriage. She had a high conception of the novelist's art, defending it in Northanger Abbey. Her genius and place among the great English novelists was at once recognized by such critics as English writers Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, and Thomas Macaulay, and Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott.
Irony is used to great effect in Emma (perhaps the most well-planned of the novels), and in Pride and Prejudice. Mansfield Park reveals more of the nature of family life, whereas Persuasion is a mellower, more romantic work.
Pre-1900 Language – as in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park
Jane Austen: Emma
Jane Austen Information Page
Letters of Jane Austen – Brabourne Edition
Love and Friendship
Austen, Jane Pride and Prejudice
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