Jane Austen (/ˈɒstɪn, ˈɔːs-/; 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 favourable social standing and economic security. Her 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. Her use of biting irony, along with her realism, humour, and social commentary, have long earned her acclaim among critics, scholars, and popular audiences alike.
With the publications of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began another, eventually titled Sanditon, but died before its completion. She also left behind three volumes of juvenile writings in manuscript, a short epistolary novelLady Susan, and another unfinished novel, The Watsons. Her six full-length novels have rarely been out of print, although they were published anonymously and brought her moderate success and little fame during her lifetime.
Jane Austen's (1775–1817) distinctive literary style relies on a combination of parody, burlesque, irony, free indirect speech, and a degree of realism. She uses parody and burlesque for comic effect and to critique the portrayal of women in 18th-century sentimental and gothic novels. Austen's irony is used similarly, but extends her critique, highlighting social hypocrisy. She often creates an ironic tone through free indirect speech, in which the thoughts and words of the characters mix with the voice of the narrator. The degree to which critics believe Austen's characters have psychological depth informs their views regarding her realism. While some scholars argue that Austen falls into a tradition of realism because of her diligent, finely executed portrayal of individual characters and her emphasis on "the everyday", others contend that her characters lack depth of feelings compared with earlier works, and that this, combined with Austen's polemical tone, places her outside the realist tradition.
Austen's novels have often been characterized as "country house novels" or as "comedies of manners", however they also include fairy tale elements. Compared to other early 19th-century novels, Austen's have little narrative or scenic description—they contain much more dialogue. Within the many conversations that her characters have, Austen shapes a distinctive and subtlety-constructed voice for each of them. (more...)
As seen in this 19th century illustration, Marianne's joys, loves, and sorrows know no restraint, opposed to her sister Elinor's 'propriety.'
Marianne Dashwood is a fictional character in the Jane Austen novel Sense and Sensibility. The 17-year-old second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Dashwood, she embodies the ‘sensibility’ of the title, as opposed to her elder sister Elinor’s ‘sense.’
She embraces spontaneity, excessive sensibility, love of nature, and romantic idealism. When she is helped by the dashing John Willoughby, she falls deeply and sincerely in love with him, abhorring all society's demands, and ignoring her sister’s rational warnings that her impulsive behavior leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. His painful spurning of her, and the shocking discovery of his dissipated character, finally causes her to recognize her misjudgment of him. She acts exactly as she feels, thus making herself and everyone around her miserable when Willoughby leaves her. (more...)
House in Winchester in which Austen lived her last days and died
Watercolour of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra, 1804.
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).
One of the first two published illustrations of Pride and Prejudice, from the Richard Bentley edition. Caption reads: "She then told him [Mr Bennett] what Mr Darcy had voluntarily done for Lydia. He heard her with astonishment."