December 16th – Jane Austen

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.

Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

Jane Austen was born on December 16th, 1775, in Stevenson, a small rural village in England. There is a plethora of biographical information about Jane Austen, so I’ll keep it brief here with just a quick rundown:

She was the second youngest of 8. Her family had a good library, and her father, a rector for the Anglican Church, supported her education.

Beginning at a young age, Austen wrote poems and stories and probably started what would become her first published novel around 1796. Her father died in 1805, and Jane felt more urgency to publish. But it was not easy for a woman at that time to be published. Her brother Henry acted as her literary agent around 1810, sending out her works.

During her life, she published the classic novels Sense and Sensibility (1811)Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816). Her works were initially published anonymously – because she was a woman. But through their prestige, her name was eventually prominently displayed.

Austen herself never married, turning down multiple proposals that didn’t suit her. 

She died on July 18th, 1817, at the age of 41, from an unknown illness. Scholars speculate that her death was caused by Addison’s disease, cancer, tuberculosis, or accidental arsenic poisoning. 

Two novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously in 1918.

Lesson from Austen

There must be something inherent in writers that makes them create what they do. Austen decided to write against all conventions of her time and place. She had to publish anonymously and often hid the fact that she was writing from people close to her because it would not have been accepted. Yet today, her name and her works are synonymous with English Literature. 

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