Biography of Jane Austen

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Read Biography of Jane AustenJane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 & died on 18 July 1817, was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature, her realism and biting social commentary cementing her historical importance among scholars and critics.

Austen’s parents, George Austen, and his wife Cassandra, were members of substantial gentry families. George was descended from a family of woollen manufacturers, which had risen through the professions to the lower ranks of the landed gentry. Cassandra was a member of the prominent Leigh family; they married on 26 April 1764 at Walcot Church in Bath. From 1765 until 1801, that is, 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.

Austen’s immediate family was large: six brothers, James, George, Edward, Henry Thomas, Francis William, Charles John — and one sister, Cassandra Elizabeth, who, like Jane, died unmarried. Cassandra Elizabeth was Austen’s closest friend and confidante throughout her life. Of her brothers, Austen felt closest to Henry, who became a banker and, after his bank failed, an Anglican clergyman. Henry was also his sister’s literary agent.

His large circle of friends and acquaintances in London included bankers, merchants, publishers, painters, and actors: he provided Austen with a view of social worlds not normally visible from a small parish in rural Hampshire. George was sent to live with a local family at a young age because, as Austen biographer Le Faye describes it, he was “mentally abnormal and subject to fits”. He may also have been deaf and mute. Charles and Frank served in the navy, both rising to the rank of admiral. Edward was adopted by his fourth cousin, Thomas Knight, inheriting Knight’s estate and taking his name in 1812.

Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as aprofessional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about 35 years old. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth.[B] From 1811 until 1816, with the release 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 a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.

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 realism. Her plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir ofJane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarshipand the emergence of a Janeite fan culture.

Early in 1816, Jane Austen began to feel unwell. She ignored her illness at first and continued to work and to participate in the usual round of family activities. By the middle of that year, her decline was unmistakable to Austen and to her family, and Austen’s physical condition began a long, slow, and irregular deterioration culminating in her death the following year. The majority of Austen biographers rely on Dr. Vincent Cope’s tentative 1964 retrospective diagnosis and list her cause of death as Addison’s disease. However, her final illness has also been described as Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Recent work by Katherine White of Britain’s Addison’s Disease Self Help Group suggests that Austen likely died of bovine tuberculosis, a disease (now) commonly associated with drinking unpasteurized milk.

Austen continued to work in spite of her illness. She became dissatisfied with the ending of The Elliots and rewrote the final two chapters, finishing them on 6 August 1816. In January 1817, Austen began work on a new novel she called The Brothers, later titled Sanditon upon its first publication in 1925, and completed twelve chapters before stopping work in mid-March 1817, probably because her illness prevented her from continuing. Austen made light of her condition to others, describing it as “Bile” and rheumatism, but as her disease progressed she experienced increasing difficulty walking or finding the energy for other activities. By mid-April, Austen was confined to her bed. In May, their brother Henry escorted Jane and Cassandra to Winchester for medical treatment. Austen died in Winchester on 18 July 1817, at the age of 41. Through his clerical connections, Henry 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.

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