Jane Austen was born on the night of December 16, 1775, in the rectory of Steventon, Hampshire (Hants.), In southern England. She was the seventh of eight children – the second and youngest of women – fathered by Anglican clergyman George Austen and his wife Cassandra (Leigh).
His father announced the birth to one of his sisters-in-law:
“We have another girl, a gift for Cassy to play with and her future partner. Her name will be Jenny, and I think she will be to Henry what Cassy is to Neddy. ”
As was the custom at the time, for the first few months, the baby was raised by a village family and returned to the parental home when she could be a behaved little person. For 3 years she would be the youngest of the family and indeed the great companion of her sister Cassandra and willing to support Henry as she did with Edward.
The Austen family belonged to the privileged world of the lower aristocracy (‘ gentry ‘), a kind of upper-lower or upper-middle class, of the English countryside. The Rev. George Austen came from the minor branch of one of a family of gentlemen long settled in Kent, while his wife belonged to the lesser branch of the Leigh, another family of gentlemen but unlike the Austens had a more aristocratic origin given its kinship with some members of the English nobility.
However, in a world where the birthright prevailed, being descendants of secondary lines and despite undeniably belonging to that privileged world of the gentry, Jane Austen’s family never led a life of great luxury; on the contrary, their income was sufficient simply to cover the needs inherent to that social position. The children of the family knew that they would have to earn a living in some way and at that time there were very few options available to men of their position (unless they inherited some wealth and property from a relative, only a few career possibilities were open to them: clergy, army, navy and law), while daughters were in an even more dependent situation, their only recourse was to marry and did not have the advantage of a portion – a kind of dowry – that made them more eligible.
This situation does not seem to have embittered the members of the family, or at least it seems to have been a very happy family nucleus where the children were also intellectually stimulated since Mr and Mrs Austen were cultured and educated people.
As a means of gaining more resources to support his family, Mr Austen turned to another important activity: teaching. Thus, from before the birth of his youngest daughter, the Steventon rectory was a kind of small boarding school for boys, where children and young people also from the gentry received instruction and some of them were prepared to enter the university.
At that time, women were generally basically homeschooled; They were taught to read, write, sew, embroider, take care of the house, that is, they were prepared to one day take charge of their own home and in some cases, they also acquired other skills such as drawing, singing, playing a musical instrument and learning a language foreigner (French, Italian). If their family resources allowed, they hired a special governess and tutors or sent them to a boarding school for young ladies to finish polishing their education.
When it came to her sister Cassandra’s turn, apparently little Jane did not want to be separated from her, and the Austens felt they had enough money to send them both. So in 1783, it was that the future writer left home for the first time. The sisters and their cousin Jane Cooper went to a small boarding school in Oxford (where the eldest son, James, was also studying at the university) run by Mrs Cawley, Dr Cooper’s sister], who soon after decided to move the school to Southampton, where the girls fell ill with typhus. It was a bad experience and they would charge a fee, with the death of Ms Cooper who was infected.
Two years later, the need to continue the girls’ education led them to be sent to another boarding school, the Abbey School in Reading, which had been in existence for several years dedicated to the education of young girls of the gentry, apparently an improvement after from the Oxford experience. However, by 1786, Messrs. Austen had to acknowledge that they could no longer pay tuition, so Cassandra and Jane would definitely return to Steventon.
That did not mean that his daughters’ education was abandoned, probably Mr Austen allowed them to attend the classes he gave to his pupils or he also dedicated a little of his time to them. Perhaps this is how he was able to discover the great intelligence of his youngest daughter and therefore gave her free access to his personal library. Thus the education of the young Jane Austen began to be partly self-taught and sui generis.
The Austen brothers had also left home little by little. James, the eldest, was to be a clergyman like his father, and a similar fate was planned for Henry. George, the second, had been born with some physical or mental handicap and – as was also customary – he was sent to live elsewhere and did not live with the rest of the family. Edward, the third, was lucky enough to be adopted by wealthy relatives who had no children, the Knights, to be their heir. Frank, the sixth child (the fifth son) and Charles, the eighth, would leave the house to start the naval career.
On the holidays they spent at home, James and Henry mainly organized home theatre performances in which their sisters and cousins, including the sophisticated cousin Eliza Hancock, Countess of Feuillide.
In those happy teenage years, young Jane began to write, surely encouraged by her father, and some of the pieces were her contributions to amuse the family. These juvenile works, dating from between 1787 and 1793, are preserved in three notebooks and appeared published until the twentieth century, such as “The history of England”, “Love and friendship”, “Lesley Castle” and “Catherine o el gazebo ”.
At the same time, she was also beginning to be a young lady, with an interest in clothes and dances. Visits to neighbouring families were part of the ritual and Jane Austen came to establish lifelong ties of friendship with some of them, for example with the Lloyd’s in Deane and the Lefroys in Ashe (with both families, the Austen would later relate) and with the Biggs from the Manydown mansion.
Austen began to be accompanied by their daughters on visits to their relatives in other counties, mainly Kent, where Edward also lived with his adoptive parents. When he married, he also began to invite one of his sisters to spend some time at his house. That was the beginning of the correspondence between Jane Austen and Cassandra.
Apparently, Cassandra would do her part of becoming a wife. In 1792 she became engaged to Tom Fowle, a former ward of her father, a friend of her brothers, and was to become a clergyman. However, there was an obstacle to the marriage, young Fowle did not have the resources to support a wife and a home, so they would wait for him to build the estate for both.
Jane’s turn to fall in love would come 3 years later, during the winter of 1795, but not with better luck. While she had some unserious suitors, she does not seem to have considered any until she met Tom Lefroy, a young Irish law student who spent that season with his relatives the Lefroys of Ashe. Cassandra was absent (visiting her prospective in-laws) and judging by the letters she received from Jane, her sister was enthusiastic about the boy. Although he refers to the matter lightly, surely the preference of both young people was enough to cause alarm among their relatives, since neither of them had the money that would allow them to formalize a relationship. Tom was dispatched as soon as possible to London and was not seen again in the neighbourhood. In time he fulfilled the expectations his family had, married a wealthy woman and became the chief legislative magistrate of Ireland. Decades later, when asked about it, Judge Lefroy would admit that he had felt a youthful love for Jane Austen.
Jane Austen after that love failure with Tom Lefroy would focus on her literary work. He had previously completed his first novel: Elinor and Marianne (later transformed into Senseness and feelings, or Judgment and feeling or Sense and sensitivity, which are the best-known ways in which this novel has been translated). It was followed by First Impressions (later to be Pride and Prejudice and Susan (later titled Northanger Abbey ). The family had a special predilection for First Impressions and Mr Austen made an attempt to get it published, but it was rejected without even reviewing it – a big editorial mistake – while Susan was accepted for publication around 1803, without ever appearing in print.
Things were no better for her sister Cassandra. In 1796, Cassandra’s fiancé embarked as chaplain to the Antilles, accompanying a wealthy relative who promised to give him some ecclesiastical benefit, and which meant that he could obtain the resources to marry. However, everything came to nothing. Tom Fowle died in February 1797, prey to a tropical disease – yellow fever – and Cassandra would renounce any expectation of marriage.
In the last five years of the eighteenth century is when Jane Austen perhaps made her first visit to Bath, which had been the most important holiday city in England of the era -although it was beginning to be relegated by other spas, mainly Brighton-, accompanying her brother Edward and his mother, and then visiting their maternal uncles, as Mrs Austen’s brother James Leigh- Perrot also resided in Bath.
Meanwhile, little by little the sons were established in some way, although Henry turned out to be the most volatile of all because instead of ordering himself as a clergyman, he decided to enlist in the military and later he would try his luck as a banker, and Messrs. Austen began to worry about the situation of their daughters, both of marriageable age, but none with prospects insight and time did not stop, they could not afford to continue waiting.
In 1799 they took a radical measure, Mr Austen decided to retire, leave the rector of Steventon in the charge of his eldest son James (who after being widowed and remarried needed the ecclesiastical benefit of his father) and go live in Bath, where with a wider social circle, her daughters might be able to find a husband.
The sisters were absent when their parents made the decision and it is said that when Jane Austen received the news, she fainted. It sounds too dramatic, but the writer was probably too rooted in country life, and while she might have enjoyed visiting Bath, it was not the same as having to live permanently in the city. That decision also meant parting ways with many prized objects – since they couldn’t afford to move all their possessions – such as his father’s book collection – which ended up being sold in batches – and his own piano. In conclusion, she had neither voice nor vote in the matter, she only had to obey.
In 1800, Jane Austen became a resident of Bath and would spend the next 6 years ‘locked up’ there. It does not seem to have been a satisfactory experience, since neither Cassandra nor Jane got suitors there – it is very likely that they did not even encourage one – and artistically for Jane, it was as if the ink had dried, she does not seem to have written anything except the first chapters from an unfinished novel, The Watsons.
Perhaps the only positive point of the change of residence was that during the summers they began to spend their holidays in various spas on the south-western coast of England (Sidmouth, Teignmouth, Lyme Regis) that would later serve as inspiration for the writer. It was also during one of those vacations that, according to Cassandra’s memories that became a family legend, Jane met a man whom she very possibly would have married, however before the couple could meet again, he did. that arrived was the news that the suitor had passed away, the identity of that mysterious lover remains to the unknown date.
Ironically, it was in those years that the writer was most certainly the closest to marriage. The sisters were visiting their friends, the Biggs of Manydown in Hampshire, when on the night of December 2, 1802, Harris Biggs-Wither, their brother and heir to Manydown, proposed to Jane Austen. From an economic point of view, it was a very advantageous offer, with the prospect of becoming the mistress of a large mansion and money at her disposal. At first, Jane accepted the happiness of her friends who had surely conspired for her brother to propose. She must have spent a sleepless night, weighing the whole thing, for young Harris was a few years her junior
and not very bright intellectually, surely not the partner she wanted to share her life with. The next morning he gave up. The situation was mortifying, the visit was shortened and we can only speculate as to whether Jane Austen received reproaches from her family for having missed that “golden” opportunity that would have definitively secured her financial situation. Selfishly, her admirers must give thanks, because very probably as a married woman she would not have been able to write the novels that she gave us.
In 1805, Jane Austen must have had some regrets about it. One of the pretexts for going to live in Bath was the health of Mr Austen and although little by little, the old gentleman began to weaken, his death was sudden and left his wife and two daughters without economic support. Everything they had had came from what he received as annuities. This was the female economic dependency. As they could, the brothers organized and made their contribution to providing some annual allowance for their mother and sisters, who had to learn to adjust to an even more moderate income.
One of the first effects of this new condition was his accommodation. They had to look for a residence according to their income, they moved accommodation in Bath twice, until finally, they left the city.
While some new residence was being found for them, Ms Austen decided that she and her daughters would visit relatives in north-central England. The Leighs graciously accommodated their guests for a season. In fact, it was at this time that one of his Adlestrop cousins inherited one of the most important ancestral properties: Stoneleigh Abbey and invited them to accompany him to take possession of that inheritance. That season also seems to have subsequently served the writer as a reference for the details of her novels.
In 1807, after spending several years at sea, Captain Frank Austen returned to England determined to start a family. He settled in Southampton, one of the most important seaports in England, and awaited a new assignment. He got married and it seemed like a good idea for his mother and sisters to come to live with him and his wife, and even keep her company while he went out on patrol missions. Thus, two years of residence in the port passed.
It was in 1809, when finally Edward Knight, who had recently been widowed, offered permanent accommodation for his mother and sisters on his Hampshire grounds. He offered them a little house in the village of Chawton, called Chawton Cottage. Martha Lloyd, a friend and relative of the family, was in a similar situation, and they invited her to come and live with them. This is how Jane Austen would spend most of the rest of her life. He was returning to his native county, to the countryside and to a location where he could reconnect with his friends, and most importantly, the time and peace to resume his pen.
The domestic organization established by the four women, it allowed Jane Austen to focus on her writing. After getting up to prepare breakfast and practice the piano a little, she had the rest of the day free at her disposal, they gave her the use of the dining room and there, sitting on a chair in front of a table next to a window, she could dedicate herself to write. According to the family’s
recollections, they purposely left one of the doors un-oiled, so that the squeak warned the writer if someone came to visit so she could hide paper, ink and pen, and take out her manual labour. He didn’t want anyone else outside of his closest family to find out what he was doing.
Those who knew surely encouraged her to try again to publish something, and the choice fell on Sensatez y feelings, the third novel she had completed and which she had never before offered to a publisher. His favourite brother, Henry, resided in London and had several contacts, including the former editor of The Loiterer, the magazine that he and James had created while studying at Oxford. The third was the charm, Egerton agreed to publish the novel on the condition that the expenses were borne by the author (it is most likely that Henry was the one who put the money) and so in November 1811, Sensatez y feelings appeared published without its author was identified who was simply called “A lady”.
That first success was followed by Pride and Prejudice, which appeared at the end of January 1813 “by the author of Sensatez y feelings .” The furore began, people were curious to know who the mysterious novelist was, several names were being considered, but it was finally Henry, who could not resist revealing that it was his sister and soon the identity of the writer was more of a secret to voices.
Jane Austen continued to work non-stop for the following years, her talent was on the rise and thus at Chawton, she completed three new novels. After Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park was published in 1814, then Emma –which was forced to dedicate to the Prince Regent- at the end of December 1815 (although the title page of the edition indicates 1816 as the publication date), and Persuasion which would appear posthumously published in December 1817, along with Northanger Abbey, whose manuscript he had recovered only the previous year.
However, in 1816 the writer began to tire easily, sometimes feeling the need to lie down in the afternoons. He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so in early 1817 he started a new novel ( Sanditon ), but eventually, there came a time when he couldn’t even hold a pencil. Forced to recognize this physical weakness, she consulted the doctor, but they were unable to determine her health problem. The symptoms began to worsen: chronic fatigue, fever, stiffness, changes in skin colour. It is believed that he probably had Addison’s disease, a kidney disease caused by the tuberculosis bacillus, but not identified at the time, although there is also the possibility that it was cancer.
In order to have a doctor close by, she and Cassandra temporarily moved to Winchester in May 1817. But nothing could be done for the writer, her days were numbered. She had written her will herself, leaving everything she owned to her sister. After long but stoic agony, he finally passed away at dawn on July 18, 1817, when he was barely 41 years old.
She was buried on one of the islands in the left aisle of Winchester Cathedral. His tombstone extols his virtues, however, he does not mention anything about what has made him famous, his literary career. That has not prevented that in the course of almost 200 years, and after his identity was fully revealed, his fans come there to pay tribute to him.