Pop quiz time!
Which author born in 1775 has her own store on Amazon.com in 2008?
Which author's name alone (not including the title of her six completed books) accounts for 6,810,000 results on Google?
Which author, a spinster who spent her entire life living quietly with her family in the English countryside, is today an action figure?
Okay, maybe it's not much of a quiz since there's a pretty major hint in the title of this entry, so let's just skip the grading part and sing a loud chorus of "Happy Birthday" to Jane Austen, whose birthday is today. We'll be spending the next few entries on Nineteenteen celebrating the divine Jane and her work, and we invite you to chime in...all commenters during our Janeian extravaganza will be entered in a random drawing to win an assortment of Jane Austen-inspired books and other fun stuff!
So who was the author of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park (most to least favorite in my humble opinion--how about you)?
Jane was born on December 16, 1775, the seventh of eight children of the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra Leigh Austen, in Steventon, Hampshire (west and slightly south of London). The Rev. Austen was hardly wealthy, but he was able to give his large family a comfortable life--and what's more important, an intellectually stimulating one. The Austen family delighted in reading, writing, and amateur theatricals, and though Jane later called herself "the most unlearned and uninformed being that dared to be an authoress", it's clear that she was quite well-read in English literature, history, and French, and possessed a smattering of knowledge in other subjects. Along with her elder (and only) sister Cassandra she briefly attended school around the age of 10-11, but after that returned home to take up the duties expected of daughters of clergymen: helping around the house with sewing, gardening, preserving, and being useful to the rest of the family (over her lifetime she spent a LOT of time taking care of her many nieces and nephews).
She was known for her liveliness and wit and was very fond of dancing and assemblies (her letters in her late teens and twenties are full of descriptions of them) and even on occasion flirting; but as the daughter of a clergyman she was not possessed of a large enough fortune to make her marital prospects terribly attractive though she did receive a handful of proposals, mostly from other not-very-well-off clergymen. One love affair did seem to be more serious, but the suitor in question fell ill and died, and Cassandra removed all mention of him from Jane's letters that she saved so that his name is lost to history. The two sisters visited their married brothers and other relatives and took care of their hypochondriac mother (who would outlive Jane by many years) and mostly lived an unremarkable life...except that Jane had an unconventional hobby: writing.
She wrote several rather silly pieces as a teen, including a highly prejudiced history of England, but then settled down at age twenty to more serious writing: early versions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice date from these years. She got her first rejection from a publisher during these years as well; it wasn't until 1803 that Northanger Abbey (then titled Susan) was accepted for publication...and then it never actually came out. The experience seems to have daunted Jane, for though she continued to write, she would not submit or let any of her family submit her work to publishers for another seven years.
But in 1810, the tide turned and Sense and Sensibility was released. It did quite well; and since it was published anonymously--the author was simply listed as "A Lady"--society took great delight in trying to figure out who had written it. Pride and Prejudice followed in 1813 to even greater acclaim (her brother Henry couldn't resist telling everyone about his talented sister, so the authoress's name became known), Mansfield Park in 1814, Emma in 1815, and Persuasion and Northanger Abbey together in 1817, after her death. Her authorial years included trips to London to meet with her publishers and mingle ever so slightly with the literati of London, but growing ill health put a stop to this after 1815, and she died in July 1817, possibly from lymphona.
Stay tuned on Friday, when Regina will present a most delicious post.