Jane Austen: A name that is likely to be known amongst readers all around the world. Her works are at the forefront of classic literature and have been for quite some time, and her novels have been adapted often and continually for film and television. Austen is and always will be one of our all-time favorite authors, and her books will continue to make us laugh, cry, and swoon, for as long as our eyes can read the words on the pages. Here are some facts about the beloved author, never quite as well-known as her works.
1. When did Jane Austen start writing?
As was customary for women at the time, Austen didn’t receive much of formal education, taught at home by her father, a reverend, who supplemented his income by boarding college students, who chipped in to help teach young Jane. Nevertheless, she was adept enough in her literary skills that by age 12, she started writing parodies, short stories, and comic plays. As a teenager, Austen briefly attended the Abbey House, a boarding school for women in Reading, England, where she studied French, history, and drama. By age 23, she’d completed basic, rough drafts of what would become four of her published novels.
2. Was Jane Austen married?
No, but she got close. In 1804, when Austen was 19, she met Thomas Lefroy, the Ireland-born nephew of a family friend. Lefroy and Austen attended several events and parties with one another, and flirted and danced as she wrote in her letters to her sister Cassandra. At one point, Austen wrote, “I rather expect to receive an offer from my friend in the course of the evening,” but that proposal never arrived and the romance fizzled out shortly thereafter. Eight years later, 27-year-old Austen entertained a marriage proposal by Harris Bigg-Wither, the older brother of a friend. Austen accepted the offer, then broke it off the next morning.
3. Did Jane Austen have a family?
Austen was the youngest female sibling in a family of eight, which included six brothers and one sister. That sister, Cassandra, was one of Austen’s closest associates and confidantes, and many of the biographical details about the author that survive come from her extensive collection of letters written to Cassandra.
4. Was Jane Austen a successful author?
Not to the extent that she’s a literary legend, and not in her own life or even under her own name. It was considered improper in early 1800s England for a woman to write books and publish them with her name on the cover, so her first four novels — Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma — hit stores with no author listed anywhere in the text. (Sense and Sensibility, for example, was credited, provocatively, to “A Lady,” while Pride and Prejudice was marketed as coming from “the author of Sense and Sensibility.)
They sold modestly and earned a few critical raves for so realistically and humorously portraying the social scene of the day. The final three books of Austen’s oeuvre were published after her death: Persuasion was released in late 1817, as was Northanger Abbey, which Austen had actually finished it in 1803. Sanditon also hit stores that year, although Austen didn’t finish it by the time she died. It wasn’t until the Victorian era, decades later, that Austen’s books were reconsidered and widely appreciated by readers and academics, and properly attributed to her, too.
5. How did Jane Austen die?
In 1816 she began suffering from an unknown illness that was extremely painful. The sickness was never diagnosed, and she died a year later at the age of 41. Many today believe Addison’s Disease may have been the cause of Austen’s demise.