Jane Austen was born 239 years ago today at Parsonage House of Steventon, Hampshire. The youngest daughter of a clergyman, Austen initially began writing for the entertainment of her family and close friends. Her family’s movements saw her relocate to Bath and Southampton, before settling in Chawton where Austen penned what would become some of her most renowned works.
To celebrate her birthday, here are five interesting particulars about Jane Austen’s life and writings:
- Austen grew up in a male-dominated household – not only did she have six brothers – James, George, Edward, Henry, Francis and Charles, but for some time, her parents also ran a boys’ boarding school out of their home.
- The Austen family was always supportive of Jane’s writing and her brother Henry helped pursue publication of her work, acting as her intermediary to negotiate with publishers. When a deal to publish Susan (later reworked as Northanger Abbey) didn’t eventuate, the Austen family bought back the copyright and Henry later championed for Northanger Abbey and Persuasion to be published after Jane’s death.
- Sense and Sensibility was the first of Austen’s works to be published. It was published on commission in 1811, with the Austen family financing the initial production costs. The manuscript was reworked from one of Jane’s earlier works; a narrative written in a series of letters entitled ‘Elinor and Marianne’.
- While Austen never married, she accepted a marriage proposal from Harris Biggs-Wither one evening in 1802, only to call off the engagement the following morning. Austen’s beloved sister Cassandra also never married (after her fiancé died of yellow fever in the West Indies), and so the sisters were each other’s companions until Jane’s death from illness in 1816.
- During her lifetime, Jane Austen was not widely known as an author, as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma were published anonymously and Austen didn’t acquaint herself in literary circles. It was only posthumously that Jane was publicly credited as the author of these works and celebrated for her writings.
Want to know more about Jane Austen?
So You Think You Know Jane Austen? A Literary Quizbook
A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections