Jane Austen is celebrated as one of the most beloved authors of all time. The popularity of her work today has reached an even greater audience with the film and TV adaptations of Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. Though an exact figure of her books cannot be found, it’s estimated that over one hundred million copies are in print.
Jane was born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, England as the seventh child of Cassandra and George Austen. Her father served as the rector for a nearby Anglican parish and the family was well respected in society, which allowed Jane an opportunity to study the habits of the middle class, the gentry, and the aristocracy. Her keen observations would later become evident in her writing.
At an early age, Jane began writing stories, poems, and plays, which became known as her Juvenilia (three volumes with a total of six stories). At the age of 16, she wrote a humorous History of England as a 34-page parody of the schoolbooks on history she had read during her main schooling.
As a young adult, Jane’s writing became more ambitious. Her stories, Lady Susan and Elinor and Marianne (a story told as a series of letters), would eventually be published as Sense and Sensibility. The draft of First Impressions would become Pride and Prejudice. Interestingly, sixteen years would pass between the time that her father first tried to get First Impressions published and the time that the novel appeared as Pride and Prejudice in 1813. Her work, Susan became Northanger Abbey and was published after her death by Jane’s brother, Henry. All of Jane’s work was written pseudonymously. The title page of Sense and Sensibility stated that it was written “By a Lady”, and only her immediate family knew that Jane was the author.
In early 1817 she started work on another novel, Sandition but had to give it up within a few months because of ill health. At that time she made her will (leaving almost everything to Cassandra), and about a month later she was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there on Friday, July 18th 1817, at the age of 41. The cause of death was never confirmed, though it has been speculated to be tuberculosis (which was rampant at the time) or Addison’s disease. Jane was buried in Winchester Cathedral in Winchester, Hampshire United Kingdom.
Throughout her life, her closest companion was her older sister, Cassandra. Neither of them married, though it is believed that Jane had a few admirers and one proposal of marriage. Very little is known about her suitors, since Cassandra destroyed all of Jane’s personal letters following her death.
Though Jane received some tributes for her works while still alive – with her first three novels in particular gathering favorable reviews and financial return – it wasn’t until after her death that her brother Henry publicly revealed that Jane was the author.