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Jane Austen's Biography

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire in England.

Jane Austen had six brothers and a sister, Cassandra (also the name of her mother). She was particularly close to her sister, who is responsible for two surviving portraits of Jane. Their father George Austen was a rector.

When one looks at the Austen siblings it is striking how young people were when they did things in those days. According to this excellent Jane Austen site, James Austen went to Oxford University at 14, Edward Austen went on a tour of Europe when he was 19, Frank and Charles Austen entered the Royal Naval Academy when they were 12.

Jane Austen herself was already an accomplished writer as a teenager and had started her Juvenilia when she was twelve.

Jane Austen spent her first 25 years at Steventon, but in 1801 she moved to Bath with her mother, father and sister.

After George Austen's death in 1805, the three women moved briefly to Clifton and then to Southampton for a few years and then in 1809 to the village of Chawton, where Jane Austen had her busiest period. A good part of her writing at this time, however, was revising work that she had started much earlier.

Three of Jane Austen's six novels were written in their original versions, before 1800, the other half were not started until Jane Austen was living in Chawton.

The four novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma) published in her lifetime did not carry Jane Austen's name. The other two novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published after her death with a biographical note on Jane Austen written by her brother, Henry.

After the publication of Emma dedicated to the Prince Regent there was an amusing correspondence between Jane Eyre and James Stanier Clark appointed by the Prince Regent to be Chaplain and Private English Secretary to the Prince of Coburg.

Clark ends his letter of 27 March 1816:

"Perhaps when you again appear in print you may chuse (sic) to dedicate your volumes to Prince Leopold: any historical romance, illustrative of the august House of Coburg, would just now be very interesting."

To which, Jane Austen neatly replied on 1 April 1816:

" ... You are very kind in your hints as to the sort of composition which might recommend me at present, and I am fully sensible that an historical romance, founded on the House of Saxe Coburg, might be much more to the purpose of profit or popularity than such pictures of domestic life in country villages as I deal in. But I could not more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under and other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensible for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter. No, I must keep to my own style and go on in my own way; and though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other."

The above letter provides a flavour of Austen's novel writing - often observations of country life infused with humour.

Jane Austen died on July 18, 1817 in Winchester. She had written a substantial part of Sanditon, before stopping through poor health.

In 2005 filming started on a movie about the young Jane Austen, played by Anne Hathaway and her one love affair with an Irish barrister called Tom Lefroy.

Additionally Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley was a critical and commercial success.

Pride and Prejudice was voted the UK's second favourite book in the BBC's Big Read poll in 2003.

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