One of the pioneers of women’s authorship, Jane Austen’s 200th death day will be celebrated on July 18, 2017. One of the most renown authors of all time, Austen did not gain fame until after her death in 1817, at 41 years of age.
Born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, England, Jane Austen was the seventh child and second daughter of well-respected Cassandra and George Austen. Jane was close with all of her siblings, but especially her only sister, Cassandra, and grew up in a home where creativity and learning were cherished. Jane and Cassandra were eventually sent to boarding school for a formal education, but were sent home when both of them caught typhus and Jane nearly died. The rest of her education came from her father and reading whatever she could, including books that belonged to the boys her father tutored.
Jane began writing poems and stories for herself and her family when she was around eleven years old. Twenty-nine works written from 1787 to 1793 are referred to as the Juvenelia of Jane Austen. Many of the works are written as parodies and satire of popular novels of the time. Most of the works were accompanied by watercolors done by Cassandra. Jane also attended church regularly and social functions, where she became an excellent dancer.
Jane’s first publication was Sense and Sensibility, which was published in 1811 by “A Lady” and was well-received. Pride and Prejudice was then published in 1813, followed by Mansfield Park in 1814. By now, Jane was earning enough money to support herself as a professional writer although she never revealed herself except to those in her immediate family. Emma was published in 1815 and Jane dedicated the novel to the Prince Regent, George IV, who admired her novels. Jane completed the first draft of Persuasion in July 1816. Jane was also able to repurchase her copyright to an earlier novel, Lady Susan, an epistolary novella that differs greatly from her other work, for publication.
In 1816, Jane’s health began deteriorating slowly and irregularly with which most scholars have determined to be Addison’s disease and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She continued to write when she could through her decline, finishing the drafts of novels. Jane died on July 18, 1817 at the age of 41 and is buried at Winchester Cathedral.
After her death, Jane’s siblings and publisher arranged for the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey, revealing that she was the author all along. She was known for her critique of novels from the Regency period, often parodying or mocking plots and characters. She is also known for her strong female characters in a time when girls were meant to be meek. It was not until after her death that her novels became popular and appreciated for how progressive they are.
Join the Aurora Public Library District during the week of July 18 as we celebrate Jane Austen and the great contribution she made to literature. Look for a display during the week of July 18! What is your favorite novel by Jane Austen? How has she impacted how you read or write?