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Jane Austen

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Not to be confused with Jane G. Austin.
Jane Austen
Watercolour-and-pencil portrait of Jane Austen
Portrait of Austen (c. 1810) by her sister, Cassandra[a]
Born (1775-12-16)16 December 1775
Steventon Rectory, Hampshire, England
Died 18 July 1817(1817-07-18) (aged 41)
Winchester, Hampshire, England
Resting place Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire, England
Period 1787 to 1809–11


Jane Austen (/ˈn ˈɒstɪn/; 16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels which interpret, critique and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen's plots often explore the dependence of women on marriage in the pursuit of favorable social standing and economic security. Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism.[2][b]

She worked with a variety of literary forms, extensively revising three major novels, and began a fourth.[c] From 1811 until 1816, with the publication of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, eventually titled Sanditon, but died before its completion.

Her novels have been rarely out of print, although they were published anonymously and brought her little fame during her lifetime. A significant transition in her posthumous reputation occurred in 1869, fifty-two years after her death, when her nephew's publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider audience.

Austen has inspired a large number of critical essays and literary anthologies. Her novels have inspired many films, from 1940's Pride and Prejudice to more recent productions: Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Love & Friendship (2016).

Biographical material

Very little biographical detail of Austen's life survives.[5] Of the approximately 3,000 letters Jane wrote in her lifetime only about 160 survive.[6] Her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were addressed) burned "the greater part" of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy, ostensibly to prevent their falling into the hands of relatives and ensuring that "younger nieces did not read any of Jane Austen's sometimes acid or forthright comments on neighbors or family members".[7] Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane's brother.[8]

Most of the early biographical material about Austen was written by her relatives and reflects the family's biases in favour of "good quiet Aunt Jane", that her domestic situation happy, that her family was the mainstay of her life. With little evidence other than the small amount of biographical materials her brother and nephew produced, which served to set a family legend according to Deirdre Le Faye.[5]

Early life

Further information: Timeline of Jane Austen


Silhouette of Cassandra Austen, Jane's sister and closest friend

Austen's parents, George Austen (1731–1805), and his wife Cassandra (1739–1827), were members of the gentry.[9] George was born into woollen manufacturers.[10] Cassandra was a member of the prominent Leigh family,[11] and daughter to the Master of Balliol, "short, fragile, pretty, and disinclined to marry".[12] They married on 26 April 1764 at Walcot Church in Bath.[13] For much of Jane's life, George Austen served as the rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon, Hampshire, and a nearby village. From 1773 until 1796, he supplemented this income by farming and by teaching three or four boys at a time, who boarded at his home.[14][d]

Austen was born at Steventon on 16 December 1775.[16] After a few months at home, her mother placed her with Elizabeth Littlewood who nursed and raised her until she was weaned.[17][e]

She came from a family of six brothers and one sister. Her sister was Austen's closest friend and confidante throughout her life.[18] The eldest, James, was ten years older; George, a year younger, was born deaf and mute and raised in the village by a local family. During her childhood Jane taught herself enough sign language to communicate with George, suggesting he visited the family home regularly.[19] Charles and Frank served in the navy, both rising to the rank of admiral. Edward was sold to be adopted,[20] to his fourth cousin, Thomas Knight, whose name he took and estate he inherited in 1812.[21] Of her brothers, Austen felt closest to Henry, a banker and, after his bank failed, an Anglican clergyman. Henry acted as his sister's literary agent, whose large circle of friends and acquaintances in London included bankers, merchants, publishers, painters and actors. He exposed her to a social world not normally visible from a small parish in rural Hampshire.[22]

Steventon rectory, as depicted in A Memoir of Jane Austen, was in a valley and surrounded by meadows.[23]

Private theatricals were an essential part of Austen's education. From age seven until thirteen, the family and friends staged a series of plays in the rectory barn, including Richard Sheridan's The Rivals (1775) and David Garrick's Bon Ton. Jane's eldest brother James wrote the prologues and epilogues and Jane probably joined in these activities, first as a spectator and later as a participant.[24] Most of the plays were comedies, which suggests how Austen's satirical gifts were cultivated.[25] At age 12, Jane tried her own hand at dramatic writing; she wrote three short plays during her teenage years.[26]

In 1783 Jane and Cassandra were sent to Oxford to be educated by Mrs. Ann Cawley, and they moved with her to Southampton later in the year. Both girls caught typhus and Jane nearly died.[27] Austen was from then home educated, until she attended boarding school with her sister from early in 1785. The school curriculum probably included some French, spelling, needlework, dancing and music and, perhaps, drama. The sisters returned home before December 1786; the Austens could not afford to send both the daughters to school.[28] After 1786, Austen "never again lived anywhere beyond the bounds of her immediate family environment".[29]

The remainder of her education came from reading, guided by her father and brothers James and Henry.[30][f] Austen apparently had unfettered access both to her father's library and that of a family friend, Warren Hastings. Together these collections amounted to a large and varied library. Her father was also tolerant of Austen's sometimes risqué experiments in writing, and provided both sisters with expensive paper and other materials for their writing and drawing.[32] According to Park Honan, life in the Austen home was lived in "an open, amused, easy intellectual atmosphere" where the ideas of those with whom the Austens might disagree politically or socially were considered and discussed.[33]

Juvenilia (1787 – 1793)

Portrait of Henry IV. Declaredly written by "a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian", The History of England was illustrated by Austen's sister, Cassandra (c. 1790).

For her own and family's amusement Austen wrote poems and stories.[34] She later compiled "fair copies" of 29 of these early works into three bound notebooks, now referred to as the Juvenilia, containing work written between 1787 and 1793.[35] There is manuscript evidence that Austen continued to work on these pieces as late as the period 1809–1811, and that her niece and nephew, Anna and James Edward Austen, made further additions as late as 1814.[36] Among these works are a satirical novel in letters titled Love and Freindship [sic], where she mocked popular novels of sensibility,[37] and The History of England, a manuscript of 34 pages accompanied by 13 watercolour miniatures by her sister, Cassandra. Austen's History parodied popular historical writing, particularly Oliver Goldsmith's History of England (1764).[38]

Austen's Juvenilia are often, according to scholar Richard Jenkyns, "boisterous" and "anarchic"; he compares them to the work of 18th-century novelist Laurence Sterne and the 20th-century comedy group Monty Python.[39]

She sent short pieces of writing to her newborn nieces Fanny Catherine and Jane Anna Elizabeth.[40] Austen was particularly proud of her accomplishments as a seamstress.[41] She also attended church regularly, socialized frequently with friends and neighbours,[g] and read novels—often of her own composition—aloud with her family in the evenings. Socializing with the neighbours often meant dancing, either impromptu in someone's home after supper or at the balls held regularly at the assembly rooms in the town hall.[43] Her brother Henry later said that "Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it".[44]

In 1793 Austen began but abandoned a short play, later titled Sir Charles Grandison or the happy Man, a comedy in 6 acts, which she returned to and completed around 1800. This was a short parody of various school textbook abridgments of Austen's favourite contemporary novel, The History of Sir Charles Grandison (1753), by Samuel Richardson.[45] Honan speculates that not long after writing Love and Freindship [sic] in 1789, Austen decided to "write for profit, to make stories her central effort", that is, to become a professional writer. Whenever she made that decision, beginning in about 1793, Austen began to write longer, more sophisticated works.[46]

Between 1793 and 1795 Austen wrote Lady Susan, a short epistolary novel, usually described as her most ambitious and sophisticated early work.[47] It is unlike any of Austen's other works. Austen biographer Claire Tomalin describes the novella's heroine as a sexual predator who uses her intelligence and charm to manipulate, betray and abuse her lovers, friends and family. Tomalin writes: "Told in letters, it is as neatly plotted as a play, and as cynical in tone as any of the most outrageous of the Restoration dramatists who may have provided some of her inspiration ... It stands alone in Austen's work as a study of an adult woman whose intelligence and force of character are greater than those of anyone she encounters."[48]

Early manuscripts (1796 – 1798)

Thomas Langlois Lefroy, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, by W. H. Mote (1855); in old age, Lefroy admitted that he had been in love with Austen: "It was boyish love."[49]

When Austen was twenty, Tom Lefroy, a neighbour, visited Steventon from December 1795 to January 1796. He had just finished a university degree and was moving to London for training as a barrister. Lefroy and Austen would have been introduced at a ball or other neighbourhood social gathering, and it is clear from Austen's letters to Cassandra that they spent considerable time together: "I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together."[50] The Lefroy family intervened and sent him away at the end of January. Marriage was impractical, as both Lefroy and Austen must have known. Neither had any money, and he was dependent on a great-uncle in Ireland to finance his education and establish his legal career. If Tom Lefroy later visited Hampshire, he was carefully kept away from the Austens, and Jane Austen never saw him again.[51]

Last page of letter from Austen to her sister, Cassandra, 11 June 1799

After finishing Lady Susan, Austen began her first full-length novel Elinor and Marianne. Her sister remembered that it was read to the family "before 1796" and was told through a series of letters. Without surviving original manuscripts, there is no way to know how much of the original draft survived in the novel published anonymously in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility.[52]

Austen began a second novel, First Impressions, in 1796. She completed the initial draft in August 1797, aged 21, (later published as Pride and Prejudice); as with all of her novels, Austen read the work aloud to her family as she was working on it and it became an "established favourite".[53] At this time, her father made the first attempt to publish one of her novels. In November 1797, George Austen wrote to Thomas Cadell, an established publisher in London, to ask if he would consider publishing First Impressions. Cadell returned Mr. Austen's letter, marking it "Declined by Return of Post". Austen may not have known of her father's efforts.[54] Following the completion of First Impressions, Austen returned to Elinor and Marianne and from November 1797 until mid-1798, revised it heavily; she eliminated the epistolary format in favour of third-person narration and produced something close to Sense and Sensibility.[55]

During the middle of 1798, after finishing revisions of Elinor and Marianne, Austen began writing a third novel with the working title Susan – later Northanger Abbey – a satire on the popular Gothic novel.[56] Austen completed her work about a year later. In early 1803, Henry Austen offered Susan to Benjamin Crosby, a London publisher, who paid £10 for the copyright. Crosby promised early publication and went so far as to advertise the book publicly as being "in the press", but did nothing more.[57] The manuscript remained in Crosby's hands, unpublished, until Austen repurchased the copyright from him in 1816.[58]

Bath and Southampton

Royal Crescent in Bath, c. 1829

In December 1800 George Austen unexpectedly announced his decision to retire from the ministry, leave Steventon, and move the family to Bath. While retirement and travel were good for the elder Austens, Jane Austen was shocked to be told she was moving from the only home she had ever known.[59] An indication of her state of mind is her lack of productivity as a writer during the time she lived at Bath. She was able to make some revisions to Susan, and she began and then abandoned a new novel, The Watsons, but there was nothing like the productivity of the years 1795–1799.[60] Tomalin suggests this reflects a deep depression disabling her as a writer, but Honan disagrees, arguing Austen wrote or revised her manuscripts throughout her creative life, except for a few months after her father died.[61][h]

In December 1802 Austen received her only known proposal of marriage. She and her sister visited Alethea and Catherine Bigg, old friends who lived near Basingstoke. Their younger brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, had recently finished his education at Oxford and was also at home. Bigg-Wither proposed and Austen accepted. As described by Caroline Austen, Jane's niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant, Harris was not attractive—he was a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. However, Austen had known him since both were young and the marriage offered many practical advantages to Austen and her family. He was the heir to extensive family estates located in the area where the sisters had grown up. With these resources, Austen could provide her parents a comfortable old age, give Cassandra a permanent home and, perhaps, assist her brothers in their careers. By the next morning, Austen realised she had made a mistake and withdrew her acceptance.[62] No contemporary letters or diaries describe how Austen felt about this proposal.[63] In 1814, Austen wrote a letter to her niece, Fanny Knight, who had asked for advice about a serious relationship, telling her that "having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection".[64]

Watercolour of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra, 1804.[65]

In 1804, while living in Bath, Austen started but did not complete her novel, The Watsons. The story centres on an invalid and improvised clergyman and four unmarried daughters. Sutherland describes the novel as "a study in the harsh economic realities of dependent women's lives".[66] Honan suggests, and Tomalin agrees, that Austen chose to stop work on the novel after her father died on 21 January 1805 and her personal circumstances resembled those of her characters too closely for her comfort.[67]

Her father's illness, later fatal, was sudden, and left him, as she told her brother Francis, "quite insensible of his own state".[68] Jane, Cassandra, and their mother were left in a precarious financial situation. Edward, James, Henry, and Francis Austen pledged to make annual contributions to support their mother and sisters.[69] For the next four years, the family's living arrangements reflected their financial insecurity. They spent part of the time in rented quarters in Bath before leaving the city in June 1805 for a family visit to Steventon & Godmersham. They moved for the autumn months to the newly fashionable seaside resort of Worthing, on the Sussex coast, where they resided at Stanford Cottage.[i] It was here that Austen is thought to have written her fair copy of Lady Susan and added its "Conclusion". In 1806 the family moved to Southampton, where they shared a house with Frank Austen and his new wife. A large part of this time they spent visiting various branches of the family.[70]

On 5 April 1809, about three months before the family's move to Chawton, Austen wrote an angry letter to Richard Crosby, offering him a new manuscript of Susan if needed to secure the immediate publication of the novel, and requesting the return of the original so she could find another publisher. Crosby replied that he had not agreed to publish the book by any particular time, or at all, and that Austen could repurchase the manuscript for the £10 he had paid her and find another publisher. She did not have the resources to buy the copyright back at that time,[71] but was able to purchase it in 1816.[72]


The cottage in Chawton where Austen lived during the last eight years of her life, now Jane Austen's House Museum

Around early 1809 Austen's brother Edward offered his mother and sisters a more settled life—the use of a large cottage in Chawton village[j] that was part of Edward's nearby estate, Chawton House. Jane, Cassandra and their mother moved into Chawton cottage on 7 July 1809.[74] Life was quieter in Chawton than it had been since the family's move to Bath in 1800. The Austens did not socialise with gentry and entertained only when family visited. Her niece Anna described the family's life in Chawton: "It was a very quiet life, according to our ideas, but they were great readers, and besides the housekeeping our aunts occupied themselves in working with the poor and in teaching some girl or boy to read or write."

Published author

First edition title page from Sense and Sensibility, Austen's first published novel (1811)

During her time at Chawton, Jane Austen published four generally well received novels. Through her brother Henry, the publisher Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense and Sensibility,[k] which appeared in October 1811. Reviews were favourable and the novel became fashionable among young aristocratic opinion-makers;[76] the edition sold out by mid-1813.[l] Austen's earnings from Sense and Sensibility provided her with some financial and psychological independence.[78] Egerton then published Pride and Prejudice, a revision of First Impressions, in January 1813. He advertised the book widely and it was an immediate success, garnering three favourable reviews and selling well. By October 1813 Egerton was able to begin selling a second edition.[79] Mansfield Park was published by Egerton in May 1814. While Mansfield Park was ignored by reviewers, it was very popular with readers. All copies were sold within six months, and Austen's earnings on this novel were larger than for any of her other novels.[80]

Austen learned that the Prince Regent admired her novels and kept a set at each of his residences.[m] In November 1815, the Prince Regent's librarian James Stanier Clarke invited Austen to visit the Prince's London residence and hinted Austen should dedicate the forthcoming Emma to the Prince. Though Austen disliked the Prince, she could scarcely refuse the request.[82] She later wrote Plan of a Novel, according to hints from various quarters (fr), a satiric outline of the "perfect novel" based on the librarian's many suggestions for a future Austen novel.[83]

In mid-1815 Austen moved her work from Egerton to John Murray, a better known London publisher,[n] who published Emma in December 1815 and a second edition of Mansfield Park in February 1816. Emma sold well but the new edition of Mansfield Park did poorly, and this failure offset most of the income from Emma. These were the last of Austen's novels to be published during her lifetime.[85]

While Murray prepared Emma for publication, Austen began The Elliots, later published as Persuasion. She completed her first draft in July 1816. In addition, shortly after the publication of Emma, Henry Austen repurchased the copyright for Susan from Crosby. Austen was forced to postpone publishing either of these completed novels by family financial troubles. Henry Austen's bank failed in March 1816, depriving him of all of his assets, leaving him deeply in debt and losing Edward, James, and Frank Austen large sums. Henry and Frank could no longer afford the contributions they had made to support their mother and sisters.[86]

Illness and death

House in Winchester in which Austen lived her last days and died

Austen was feeling unwell by early 1816, but ignored the warning signs. By the middle of that year, her decline was unmistakable, and she began a slow, irregular, deterioration.[87] The majority of biographers rely on Dr. Vincent Cope's 1964 retrospective diagnosis and list her cause of death as Addison's disease, although her final illness has also been described as resulting from Hodgkin's lymphoma.[88][o]

She continued to work in spite of her illness. Dissatisfied with the ending of The Elliots, she rewrote the final two chapters, finished on 6 August 1816.[p] In January 1817 she began The Brothers (titled Sanditon when published in 1925), and completed twelve chapters before stopping work in mid-March 1817, probably due to illness.[91]

Austen made light of her condition, describing it as "bile" and rheumatism. As her disease progressed she experienced difficulty walking and lacked energy; by mid-April she was confined to bed. In May Cassandra and Henry brought her to Winchester for treatment. Austen died in Winchester on 18 July 1817, at the age of 41. Henry, through his clerical connections, arranged for his sister to be buried in the north aisle of the nave of Winchester Cathedral. The epitaph composed by her brother James praises Austen's personal qualities, expresses hope for her salvation, mentions the "extraordinary endowments of her mind", but does not explicitly mention her achievements as a writer.[92]

Posthumous publication

After Austen's death, Cassandra, Henry Austen, and Murray arranged for the publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey as a set.[q] Henry Austen contributed a Biographical Note which for the first time identified his sister as the author of the novels. Tomalin describes it as "a loving and polished eulogy".[94] Sales were good for a year—only 321 copies remained unsold at the end of 1818—and then declined. Murray disposed of the remaining copies in 1820; her novels remained out of print for twelve years.[95]

In 1832 Richard Bentley purchased the remaining copyrights to all of her novels, and over the following winter published five illustrated volumes as part of his Standard Novels series. In October 1833, Bentley released the first collected edition of her works. Since then, Austen's novels have been continuously in print.[96]

Genre and style

Austen's works critique the sentimental novels of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century literary realism.[97][r] The earliest English novelists, Richardson, Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett, were followed by the school of sentimentalists and romantics such as Walter Scott, Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, Ann Radcliffe, Laurence Sterne, and Oliver Goldsmith, whose style and genre Austen rejected, returning the novel on a "slender thread" to the tradition of Richardson and Fielding for a "realistic study of manners".[99]

Walter Scott noted Austen's "resistance to the trashy sensationalism of much of modern fiction – 'the ephemeral productions which supply the regular demand of watering places and circulating libraries'".[100] Yet the rejection of these genres is complex, as evidenced by Northanger Abbey and Emma.[100] Similar to William Wordsworth, who excoriated the modern frantic novel in the "Preface" to his Lyrical Ballads (1800), Austen distances herself from escapist novels; the discipline and innovation she demonstrates is similar to his, and she shows "that rhetorically less is artistically more."[100] She eschewed popular Gothic fiction, stories of terror in which a heroine typically was stranded in a remote location, a castle or abbey (32 novels contained the word "abbey" in their title between 1784 and 1818). Yet in Northanger Abbey she alludes to the trope, with the heroine, Catherine, anticipating a move to a remote locale. Rather than full-scale rejection or parody, Austen transforms the genre, juxtaposing reality, with descriptions of elegant rooms and modern comforts, against the heroine's "novel-fueled" desires.[101] Nor does she completely denigrate Gothic fiction: instead she transforms settings and situations, such that the heroine is still imprisoned, yet her imprisonment is mundane and real – regulated manners and the strict rules of the ballroom.[102] In Sense and Sensibility Austen presents characters who are more complex than in staple sentimental fiction, according to critic Keymer, who notes that although it is a parody of popular sentimental fiction, "Marianne in her sentimental histrionics responds to the calculating world ... with a quite justifiable scream of female distress."[103]

The hair was curled, and the maid sent away, and Emma sat down to think and be miserable. – It was a wretched business, indeed! – Such an overthrow of everything she had been wishing for! – Such a development of every thing most unwelcome!

—example of free indirect speech, Jane Austen, Emma[104]

Richardson's Pamela, the prototype for the sentimental novel, is a didactic love story with a happy ending, written at a time women were beginning to have the right to choose husbands and yet were restricted by social conventions.[105] Austen attempted Richardson's epistolary style, but found the flexibility of narrative more conducive to her realism, a realism in which each conversation and gesture carries a weight of significance. The narrative style utilises free indirect speech – she was the first English novelist to do so extensively – through which she had the ability to present a character's thoughts directly to the reader and yet still retain narrative control. The style allows an author to vary discourse between the narrator's voice and values and those of the characters.[106]

Austen had a natural ear for speech and dialogue, according to scholar Mary Lascelles "Few novelists can be more scrupulous than Jane Austen as to the phrasing and thoughts of their characters."[107] Techniques such as fragmentary speech suggest a character's traits and their tone; "syntax and phrasing rather than vocabulary" is utilised to indicate social variants.[108] Dialogue reveals a character’s mood – frustration, anger, happiness – each treated differently and often through varying patterns of sentence structures. For example, when Elizabeth Bennett rejects Darcy, her stilted speech and the convoluted sentence structure reveals that he has wounded her:[109]

From the very beginning, from the first moment I may almost say, of my acquaintance with you, your manners impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that the groundwork of disapprobation, on which succeeding events have built so immovable a dislike. And I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.[110]

Austen's plots highlight women's traditional dependence on marriage to secure social standing and economic security.[111] As an art form, the 18th-century novel lacked the seriousness of its equivalents from the 19th century, when novels were treated as "the natural vehicle for discussion and ventilation of what mattered in life".[112] Rather than delving too deeply into the psyche of her characters, Austen enjoys them and imbues them with humour, according to critic John Bayley. He believes that the well-spring of her wit and irony is her own attitude that comedy "is the saving grace of life".[113] Part of Austen's fame rests on the historical and literary significance that she was the first woman to write great comic novels. Samuel Johnson's influence is evident, in that she follows his advice to write "a representation of life as may excite mirth".[114]

Her humour comes from her modesty and lack of superiority, allowing her most successful characters, such as Elizabeth Bennet, to transcend the trivialities of life, which the more foolish characters are overly absorbed in.[113] Austen used comedy to explore the individualism of women's lives and gender relations, and she appears to have used it to find the goodness in life, often fusing it with "ethical sensibility", creating artistic tension. Critic Robert Polhemus writes, "To appreciate the drama and achievement of Austen, we need to realize how deep was her passion for both reverence and ridicule .... and her comic imagination reveals both the harmonies and the telling contradictions of her mind and vision as she tries to reconcile her satirical bias with her sense of the good."[114]


Contemporaneous responses

In 1816 the editors of The New Monthly Magazine noted Emma's publication but chose not to review it.[K]

As Austen's works were published anonymously, they brought her little personal renown. They were fashionable among opinion-makers, but were rarely reviewed.[76] Most of the reviews were short and on balance favourable, although superficial and cautious.[115][116] They most often focused on the moral lessons of the novels.[117] Sir Walter Scott, a leading novelist of the day, contributed one anonymously. Using the review as a platform to defend the then-disreputable genre of the novel, he praised Austen's realism.[118] The other important early review was attributed to Richard Whately in 1821. However, Whately denied having authored the review, which drew favourable comparisons between Austen and such acknowledged greats as Homer and Shakespeare, and praised the dramatic qualities of her narrative. Scott and Whately set the tone for almost all subsequent 19th-century Austen criticism.[119]

19th century

One of the first two published illustrations of Pride and Prejudice, from the Richard Bentley edition.[120] Caption reads: "She then told him [Mr Bennett] what Mr Darcy had voluntarily done for Lydia. He heard her with astonishment."

Because Austen's novels did not to conform to Romantic and Victorian expectations that "powerful emotion [be] authenticated by an egregious display of sound and colour in the writing",[121] 19th-century critics and audiences preferred the works of Charles Dickens and George Eliot.[122] Though Austen's novels were republished in Britain from the 1830s and sold at a steady rate, they were not bestsellers.[123]

Austen had many admiring readers in the 19th century who considered themselves part of a literary elite: they viewed their appreciation of Austen's works as a mark of their cultural taste. Philosopher and literary critic George Henry Lewes expressed this viewpoint in a series of enthusiastic articles published in the 1840s and 1850s.[124] This theme continued later in the century with novelist Henry James, who referred to Austen several times with approval and on one occasion ranked her with Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Henry Fielding as among "the fine painters of life".[125]

The publication of James Edward Austen-Leigh's A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869 introduced Austen to a wider public as "dear aunt Jane", the respectable maiden aunt. Publication of the Memoir spurred the reissue of Austen's novels — the first popular editions were released in 1883 and fancy illustrated editions and collectors' sets quickly followed.[126] Author and critic Leslie Stephen described the popular mania that started to develop for Austen in the 1880s as "Austenolatry". Around the start of the 20th century, members of the literary elite reacted against the popularization of Austen. They referred to themselves as Janeites in order to distinguish themselves from the masses who did not properly understand her works. For example, Henry James responded negatively to what he described as "a beguiled infatuation" with Austen, a rising tide of public interest that exceeded Austen's "intrinsic merit and interest".[127]


Winchester Cathedral, where Austen is buried, and her memorial gravestone in the nave of the Cathedral

Several of Austen's works have been subject to academic study. The first examination came from a 1911 essay by Oxford Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley.[128] In his essay, Bradley groups of Austen's novels into "early" and "late" works, a distinction still used by scholars today.[129] The second was R. W. Chapman's 1923 edition of Austen's collected works. Not only was it the first scholarly edition of Austen's works, it was also the first scholarly edition of any English novelist. The Chapman text has remained the basis for all subsequent published editions of Austen's works.[130]

With the publication in 1939 of Mary Lascelles's Jane Austen and Her Art, the academic study of Austen took hold.[131] Lascelles's innovative work included an analysis of the books Austen read and the effect of her reading on her work, an extended analysis of Austen's style, and her "narrative art". Concern arose that academics were taking over Austen criticism and that it was becoming increasingly esoteric, a debate that has continued since.[132]

A more revisionist approach in the 1940s, together with F. R. Leavis's and Ian Watt's pronouncement that Austen was one of the great writers of English fiction, did much to cement Austen's reputation amongst academics.[133] They agreed that she "combined [Henry Fielding's and Samuel Richardson's] qualities of interiority and irony, realism and satire to form an author superior to both".[134] The period since World War II has seen more scholarship on Austen using a diversity of critical approaches, including feminist theory, and perhaps most controversially, postcolonial theory. The continuing disconnection between the popular appreciation of Austen, particularly by modern Janeites, and the academic appreciation of Austen has widened considerably.[135]


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Austen's novels have resulted in sequels, prequels and adaptations of almost every type, from soft-core pornography to fantasy. From the 19th century, her family members published conclusions to her incomplete novels, and by 2000 there were over 100 printed adaptations.[136] The first film adaptation was the 1940 MGM production of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson.[137] BBC television dramatisations since the 1970s have attempted to adhere meticulously to Austen's plots, characterisations and settings.[138]

From 1995 a large number of Austen adaptations began to appear, with Ang Lee's film of Sense and Sensibility, for which screenwriter and star Emma Thompson won an Academy Award, and the BBC's immensely popular TV mini-series Pride and Prejudice, starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.[139] A 2005 British production of Pride and Prejudice, directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen,[140] was followed in 2007 by ITV's Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion,[141] and in 2016 by Love & Friendship, a film version of Lady Susan that borrowed the title of Austen's Love and Freindship [sic].[142]

List of works


Short fiction

Unfinished fiction

Other works

  • Sir Charles Grandison (adapted play) (1793, 1800)[s]
  • Plan of a Novel (1815)
  • Poems (1796–1817)
  • Prayers (1796–1817)
  • Letters (1796–1817)

Juvenilia — Volume the First (1787–1793)[t]

  • Frederic & Elfrida
  • Jack & Alice
  • Edgar & Emma
  • Henry and Eliza
  • The Adventures of Mr. Harley
  • Sir William Mountague
  • Memoirs of Mr. Clifford
  • The Beautifull Cassandra
  • Amelia Webster
  • The Visit
  • The Mystery
  • The Three Sisters
  • A beautiful description
  • The generous Curate
  • Ode to Pity

Juvenilia — Volume the Second (1787–1793)

Juvenilia — Volume the Third (1787–1793)

  • Evelyn
  • Catharine, or the Bower

Family trees

Family tree of William Austen, Jane Austen's paternal grandfather, showing descendants for two generations
Austen, her parents and her siblings
Family tree of Rev. George Austen, Jane Austen's father, showing Jane's married brothers and their descendants
Her siblings, nieces and nephews



  1. ^ The original is unsigned but was believed by the family to have been made by Cassandra and remained in the family with the one signed sketch by Cassandra until 1920. The original sketch, according to relatives who knew Jane Austen well, was not a good likeness.[1]
  2. ^ Oliver MacDonagh says that Sense and Sensibility "may well be the first English realistic novel" based on its detailed and accurate portrayal of what he calls "getting and spending" in an English gentry family.[3]
  3. ^ These included the original versions of and revisions to the novels later published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, and a novel fragment, The Watsons.[4]
  4. ^ Irene Collins estimates that when George Austen took up his duties as rector in 1764, Steventon comprised no more than about thirty families.[15]
  5. ^ Le Faye and Collins add that the Austens followed this custom for all their children.
  6. ^ Irene Collins believes that Austen "used some of the same school books as the boys" her father tutored.[31]
  7. ^ For social conventions among the gentry generally, see.[42]
  8. ^ Doody agrees with Tomalin; see Doody, "Jane Austen, that disconcerting child", in Alexander and McMaster 2005, 105.
  9. ^ Austen's observations of early Worthing probably helped inspire her final but unfinished novel, Sanditon, the story of an up-and-coming seaside resort in Sussex.
  10. ^ Chawton had a population of 417 at the census of 1811.[73]
  11. ^ All of Jane Austen's novels except Pride and Prejudice were published "on commission", that is, at the author's financial risk. When publishing on commission, publishers would advance the costs of publication, repay themselves as books were sold and then charge a commission for each book sold, paying the rest to the author. If a novel did not recover its costs through sales, the author was responsible for them.[75]
  12. ^ Austen's novels were published in larger editions than was normal for this period. The small size of the novel-reading public and the large costs associated with hand production (particularly the cost of handmade paper) meant that most novels were published in editions of 500 copies or less to reduce the risks to the publisher and the novelist. Even some of the most successful titles during this period were issued in editions of not more than 750 or 800 copies and later reprinted if demand continued. Austen's novels were published in larger editions, ranging from about 750 copies of Sense and Sensibility to about 2,000 copies of Emma. It is not clear whether the decision to print more copies than usual of Austen's novels was driven by the publishers or the author. Since all but one of Austen's books were originally published "on commission", the risks of overproduction were largely hers (or Cassandra's after her death) and publishers may have been more willing to produce larger editions than was normal practice when their own funds were at risk. Editions of popular works of non-fiction were often much larger.[77]
  13. ^ The Prince Regent's admiration was by no means reciprocated. In a letter of 16 February 1813 to her friend Martha Lloyd, Austen says (referring to the Prince's wife, whom he treated notoriously badly) "I hate her Husband".[81]
  14. ^ John Murray also published the work of Walter Scott and Lord Byron. In a letter to Cassandra dated 17/18 October 1816, Austen comments that "Mr. Murray's Letter is come; he is a Rogue of course, but a civil one."[84]
  15. ^ Claire Tomalin prefers a diagnosis of a lymphoma such as Hodgkin's disease.[89]
  16. ^ The manuscript of the revised final chapters of Persuasion is the only surviving manuscript in Austen's own handwriting for any of her published novels.[90] Cassandra and Henry Austen chose the final titles and the title page is dated 1818.
  17. ^ Honan points to "the odd fact that most of [Austen's] reviewers sound like Mr. Collins" as evidence that contemporary critics felt that works oriented toward the interests and concerns of women were intrinsically less important and less worthy of critical notice than works (mostly non-fiction) oriented towards men.[93]
  18. ^ Oliver MacDonagh says that Sense and Sensibility "may well be the first English realistic novel" based on its detailed and accurate portrayal of what he calls "getting and spending" in an English gentry family.[98]
  19. ^ The full title of this short play is Sir Charles Grandison or The happy Man, a Comedy in 6 acts. For more information see Southam (1986), 187–189.
  20. ^ This list of the juvenilia is taken from The Works of Jane Austen. Vol VI. 1954. Ed. R. W. Chapman and B. C. Southam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, as supplemented by additional research reflected in Margaret Anne Doody and Douglas Murray, eds. Catharine and Other Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.


  1. ^ Kirkham (2005), 68–72.
  2. ^ Grundy (2014), 195–197
  3. ^ MacDonagh (1991), 65, 136–137.
  4. ^ Sutherland (2005), 13.
  5. ^ a b Fergus (2005), 3–4
  6. ^ Le Faye (2005), 33
  7. ^ Le Faye (2003), 270; Nokes (1998), 1; Le Faye (2005), 33
  8. ^ Le Faye (2003), 279
  9. ^ Honan (1987), 29–30.
  10. ^ Honan (1987), 11–14; Tucker (1986), 143.
  11. ^ Tomalin (1997), 13–16, 147–151, 170–171; Greene (1963), 156–157;
  12. ^ Honan (1987), 11–14; Fergus (2005), 5–6; Collins (1994), 10–11.
  13. ^ Tomalin (1997), 20.
  14. ^ Honan (1987), 14, 17–18; Collins (1994), 54.
  15. ^ Collins (1994), 86.
  16. ^ Le Faye (2003), 27.
  17. ^ Tomalin (1997), 7–9; Honan (1987), 21–22; Collins (1994), 86; Le Faye (2003), 19
  18. ^ Fergus (2005), 3; Tomalin (1997), 4, 142; Honan (1987), 23, 119.
  19. ^ Le Faye (2003), 18–20; Honan (1987), 24; Tomalin (1997), 9
  20. ^ Honan (1987), 25
  21. ^ Tucker (1986), 147; Le Faye (2003), 43–44
  22. ^ MacDonagh (1991), 50–51; Honan (1987), 24, 246; Collins (1994), 17
  23. ^ Le Faye (2003), 20
  24. ^ Le Faye (2014), xvi–xvii; Tucker (1986), 1–2; Byrne (2002), 1–39; Gay (2002), ix, 1; Tomalin (1997), 31–32, 40–42, 55–57, 62–63; Honan (1987), 35, 47–52, 423–424, n. 20.
  25. ^ Honan (1987), 53–54; Lascelles (1966), 106–107; Litz (1965), 14–17.
  26. ^ Tucker (1986), 2
  27. ^ Le Faye (2003), 47–49; Collins (1994), 35, 133.
  28. ^ Tomalin (1997), 9–10, 26, 33–38, 42–43; Le Faye (2003), 52; Collins (1994), 133–134
  29. ^ Le Faye (2003), 52
  30. ^ Grundy (2014),192–193; Tomalin (1997), 28–29, 33–43, 66–67; Honan (1987), 31–34; Lascelles (1966), 7–8
  31. ^ Collins (1994), 42
  32. ^ Honan (1987), 66–68; Collins (1994), 43.
  33. ^ Honan (1987), 211–212.
  34. ^ Le Faye (2003), 66; Litz (1986), 48; Honan (1987), 61–62, 70; Lascelles (1966), 4.
  35. ^ Honan (1987), 62–76; Le Faye (2003), 270.
  36. ^ Sutherland (2005), 14; Doody (2014) 87–89.
  37. ^ Litz (1965), 21; Tomalin (1997), 47; Honan (1987), 73–74; Southam (1986), 248–249.
  38. ^ Honan (1987), 75.
  39. ^ Jenkyns (2004), 31.
  40. ^ Le Faye (2003), 84.
  41. ^ Honan (1987), 265.
  42. ^ Collins (1994), 105
  43. ^ Tomalin (1997), 101–103, 120–123, 144; Honan (1987), 119.
  44. ^ Quoted in Tomalin (1997), 102; see also Honan (1987), 84.
  45. ^ Southam (1986), 187–189.
  46. ^ Honan (1987), 93.
  47. ^ Honan (1987), 101–102; Tomalin (1997), 82–83
  48. ^ Tomalin (1997), 83–84; see also Sutherland (2005), 15.
  49. ^ Tomalin (1997), 118.
  50. ^ Quoted in Le Faye (2003), 92.
  51. ^ Le Faye (2014), xviii; Fergus (2005), 7–8; Tomalin (1997), 112–120, 159; Honan (1987), 105–111.
  52. ^ Sutherland (2005), 16–18; LeFaye (2014), xviii; Tomalin (1997), 107, 120, 154, 208.
  53. ^ Le Faye (2003), 100, 114.
  54. ^ Le Faye (2003), 104; Sutherland (2005), 17, 21; quotations from Tomalin (1997), 120–122.
  55. ^ Le Faye (2014), xviii–xiv; Fergus (2005), 7; Sutherland (2005), 16–18, 21; Tomalin (1997), 120–121; Honan (1987), 122–124.
  56. ^ Litz (1965), 59–60.
  57. ^ Tomalin (1997), 182.
  58. ^ Le Faye (2014), xx–xxi, xxvi; Fergus (2005), 8–9; Sutherland (2005), 16, 18–19, 20–22; Tomalin (1997), 199, 254.
  59. ^ Collins (1994), 8–9.
  60. ^ Sutherland (2005), 21.
  61. ^ Le Faye (2014) xx–xxii; Fergus (2005), 8; Sutherland (2005), 15, 20–22; Tomalin (1997), 168–175; Honan (1987), 215.
  62. ^ Le Faye (2014), xxi; Fergus (2005), 7–8; Tomalin (1997), 178–181; Honan (1987), 189–198.
  63. ^ Le Faye (2005), 51.
  64. ^ Letter dated 18–20 November 1814, in Le Faye (1995), 278–282.
  65. ^ Kirkham (2005), 68–72; Auerbach (2004), 19.
  66. ^ Sutherland (2005), 15, 21.
  67. ^ Le Faye (2014) xxii; Tomalin (1997), 182–184; Honan (1987), 203–205.
  68. ^ MacDonagh (1991), 111; Honan (1987), 212; Tomalin (1997), 186.
  69. ^ Honan (1987), 213–214.
  70. ^ Tomalin (1997), 194–206.
  71. ^ Tomalin (1997), 207.
  72. ^ Le Faye (2014), xx–xxi, xxvi; Fergus (2005), 8–9; Sutherland (2005), 16, 18–19, 20–22; Tomalin (1997), 182, 199, 254.
  73. ^ Collins (1994), 89.
  74. ^ Le Faye (2014), xxii; Tomalin (1997), 194–206; Honan (1987), 237–245; MacDonagh (1991), 49.
  75. ^ Fergus (2014), 6; Raven (2005), 198; Honan (1987), 285–286.
  76. ^ a b Honan (1987), 289–290.
  77. ^ For more information and a discussion of the economics of book publishing during this period, see Fergus (2014), 6–7, and Raven (2005), 196–203.
  78. ^ Honan (1987), 290, Tomalin (1997), 218.
  79. ^ Sutherland (2005), 16–17, 21; Le Faye (2014) xxii–xxiii; Fergus (2014), 10–11; Tomalin (1997), 210–212, 216–220; Honan (1987), 287.
  80. ^ Le Faye (2014), xxiii; Fergus (1997), 22–24; Sutherland (2005), 18–19; Tomalin (1997), 236, 240–241, 315, n. 5.
  81. ^ Le Faye (1995), 207–208.
  82. ^ Austen letter to James Stannier Clarke, 15 November 1815; Clarke letter to Austen, 16 November 1815; Austen letter to John Murray, 23 November 1815, in Le Faye (1995), 296–298.
  83. ^ Litz (1965), 164–165; Honan (1987), 367–369, describes the episode in detail.
  84. ^ Honan (1987), 364–365; Le Faye (1995) 291.
  85. ^ Le Faye (2014), xxv–xxvi; Sutherland (2005), 16–21; Fergus (2014), 12–13, 16–17, n.29, 31, n.33; Fergus (2005), 10; Tomalin (1997), 256.
  86. ^ Le Faye (2014), xx, xxvi; Fergus (2014), 15; Tomalin (1997), 252–254.
  87. ^ Honan (1987), 378–379, 385–395
  88. ^ For detailed information concerning the retrospective diagnosis, its uncertainties and related controversies, see Honan (1987), 391–392; Le Faye (2003), 236; Grey (1986), 282; Wiltshire, Jane Austen and the Body, 221.
  89. ^ Tomalin (1997), Appendix I, 283–284; see also A. Upfal, "Jane Austen's lifelong health problems and final illness: New evidence points to a fatal Hodgkin's disease and excludes the widely accepted Addison's", Medical Humanities, 31(1),| 2005, 3–11. doi:10.1136/jmh.2004.000193
  90. ^ Tomalin (1997), 255.
  91. ^ Tomalin (1997), 261.
  92. ^ Le Faye (2014), xxv–xxvi; Fergus (1997), 26–27; Tomalin (1997), 254–271; Honan (1987), 385–405.
  93. ^ Honan (1987), 317.
  94. ^ Tomalin (1997), 272.
  95. ^ Tomalin (1997), 321, n.1 and 3; Gilson (1986), 136–137.
  96. ^ Gilson (1986), 137; Gilson (2005), 127; Southam (1986), 102.
  97. ^ Litz (1965), 3–14; Grundy (2014), 195–197; Waldron (2005), 83, 89–90; Duffy (1986), 93–94.
  98. ^ MacDonagh (1991), 65, 136–137.
  99. ^ Grundy (2014), 196
  100. ^ a b c Keymer (2014), 21
  101. ^ Keymer (2014), 24–25
  102. ^ Keymer (2014), 29
  103. ^ Keymer (2014), 32
  104. ^ qtd. in Lodge (1986), 175
  105. ^ Lodge (1986), 165
  106. ^ Lodge (1986), 171–175
  107. ^ Lascelles (1966) 101
  108. ^ Lascelles (1966), 96, 101
  109. ^ Baker (2014), 177
  110. ^ qtd in Baker (2014), 177
  111. ^ MacDonagh (1991), 66–75; Collins (1994), 160–161.
  112. ^ Bayley (1986), 24
  113. ^ a b Bayley (1986), 25–26
  114. ^ a b Polhemus (1986), 60
  115. ^ Fergus (2014), 10; Honan (1987), 287–289, 316–317, 372–373.
  116. ^ Southam (1968), 1.
  117. ^ Waldron (2005), 83–91.
  118. ^ Scott (1968), 58; Waldron (2005), 86; Duffy (1986), 94–96.
  119. ^ Waldron (2005), 89–90; Duffy (1986), 97; Watt (1963), 4–5.
  120. ^ Gilson (2005), 127.
  121. ^ Duffy (1986), 98–99; MacDonagh (1991), 146; Watt (1963), 3–4.
  122. ^ Southam (1968), 1; Southam (1987), 2.
  123. ^ Johnson (2014), 232; Gilson (2005), 127.
  124. ^ Southam (1968), 152; Southam (1987), 20–21.
  125. ^ Southam (1987), 70.
  126. ^ Southam (1987), 58–62.
  127. ^ Southam (1987), 46–47, 230 (for the quote from James); Johnson (2014), 234.
  128. ^ Trott (2005), 92.
  129. ^ Southam (1987), 79.
  130. ^ Southam (1987), 99–100; see also Watt (1963), 10–11; Gilson (2005), 149–50; Johnson (2014), 239.
  131. ^ Southam (1987), 107–109, 124.
  132. ^ Southam (1986), 108; Watt (1963), 10–11; Stovel (2014), 248; Southam (1987), 127; Todd, 20.
  133. ^ Johnson (2014), 239; Todd, 20.
  134. ^ Todd (2006), 20.
  135. ^ Rajan (2005), 101–110
  136. ^ Lynch (2005), 160–162.
  137. ^ Brownstein (2001), 13.
  138. ^ Troost (2007), 79.
  139. ^ Troost (2007), 82–84.
  140. ^ Carol Kopp, "The Nominees: Keira Knightley", CBS News, 20 October 2008.
  141. ^ Julia Day, "ITV falls in love with Jane Austen", The Guardian, 10 November 2005.
  142. ^ Alonso Duralde, Alonso, "'Love & Friendship' Sundance Review: Whit Stillman Does Jane Austen – But Hasn't He Always?", The Wrap, 25 January 2016.
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