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Jane Austen Bequeathes the Empire of Pemberley

Updated on February 5, 2014

About Jane Austen

Jane Austen was a woman with a voice and with something to say, who discovered her gift for words and laughter at a young age. She was raised in England in the 18th century (1775-1817) in a family with connections to the aristocracy but with little money. She was educated at home, as was the norm for young women of her class at that time, and as a child she often entertained her family and friends with her stories when they sat around the living room together after dinner, visiting, gossiping, discussing the news of the day, playing music, playing games, drinking tea and eating cake. At these times Jane would read stories and poems she had written, or perform plays which her five brothers and her sister Cassandra acted in with her.

Jane spent most of her early life in the village of Steventon, in Hampshire, in the countryside of southern England, where her father was a clergyman in a small parish.There was always a concern about money, since they did not own an estate and an independent fortune. With the exception of a few years spent away from home at boarding schools for young women, Jane was educated mostly through her own reading in the family library. Theirs was a close family life with lots of reading, discussing ideas, current events and politics, and writing letters, while at the same time Jane helped with the women's duties of running the household, supervising the cook and housekeeper, training the servants, managing the household expenses, and being available as hostess to welcome guests, order refreshments and entertain company.


Jane Austen lived in Steventon, Bath, Southampton, Chawton, and died in Winchester.

A
Steventon, Hampshire, England:
Steventon, Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK

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Jane Austen was born and raised in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was the rector of the Anglican church.

B
Bath:
Bath, Bath and North East Somerset, UK

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In 1800, she moved to Bath with her family after her father retired.

C
Southampton:
Southampton, UK

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When her father died suddenly in 1806, leaving his daughters without an income nor home, Jane shared a house in Southampton with her brother Francis.

D
Chawton:
Chawton, Alton, Hampshire GU34, UK

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In 1809, Jane's brother Edward, who had been adopted by wealthy relatives and inherited their estate at Chawton, offered his sisters a house.

E
Winchester:
Winchester, Hampshire, UK

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In 1817, Jane Austen died in Winchester, where she had gone for treatment for illness.

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Jane Austen Life and Books

Jane Austen lived at a time when married women in England were not considered persons under the law, and were not allowed to own most kinds of property in their own name. Until the Married Women’s Property Act was passed in 1882 women who married lost their legal identity as persons, and any property they owned became their husband's. Land and real estate passed to the eldest sons, and if there were no son, but only daughters from the marriage, the property might be entailed to the nearest male relative. This reality was reflected in Austens' own life, and in her novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, whose heroines would be dependent on the charity of relatives for a home and income after the death of their father.

Moreover, a woman of Jane Austen's literary and intellectual talents might have wished to study at a university, but it was also impossible in her day for a woman to attend the respected universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, which only enrolled women as full members of the university after 1920, for Oxford, and 1947, for Cambridge. So instead, like other young women of her day and class, Jane spent her days in the public rooms of her home, playing the piano, reading and writing in the drawing room without a room of her own or a private office. She rarely had the luxury of setting her own schedule and putting her creative work first, for she needed to set it aside to be available to visitors, interrupted by duties to the household, family, and community. Like Elizabeth Bennett when Darcy came to call unexpectedly, the sheets of writing would be hidden under a blotter when someone walked into the room, requiring their author to assume a smiling face of welcome, no matter how busily her thoughts might be engaged with the problems of her characters and the construction of her plot.

Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Nevertheless, Austen wrote prolifically, and after many revisions, Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, when Jane was 36 years old. Since the profession of author was considered "unladylike" and she would have faced gossip, damage to her reputation and perhaps social ostracism or other kinds of social punishment, Jane Austen's name did not appear as author: on the flyleaf under the title was printed "By a Lady."

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen's first published novel, authored "By a Lady," to protect her identity.

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Book: Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Since its publication in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is one of the few novels in English that has never been out of print. Why is it such a favourite? Its classic opening line sets the tone of irony and wit: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife." The novel is funny, insightful and romantic, with a host of characters that jump off the page and talk to each other, manipulating each other resourcefully to get what they want--a husband, social position, money, attention, influence, self-aggrandizement. It is a story that never goes out of date because of its shrewd comments on the way people interact together in families and in society. It is timeless, for set in the details of 19th century rural English drawing rooms, it shows family life and people's misjudgements, folly, shortcomings, forgiveness, and love. The continuing interest it elicits around the world and across cultures shows its appeal to all audiences. It has been translated into many languages, including French, German, Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese, and translated many times into film and television.

Watch Pride and Prejudice Movie

Like all good writers, Jane Austen wrote about what she knew, for in the specifics of the particular details lie the universal truths. The events of her novels reflect her own experience--the daily events of aristocratic families in the countryside of early 19th century England, revolving around balls, card-parties, drinking tea, walks in the country and rare trips to visit friends or relatives in town or in other counties. They are all told from the perspective of a woman confined at home by the social rules of her day. Unlike her heroines, Jane Austen never married nor had children. She lived her whole life with her mother and her sister, like the sisters Elinor and Marianne of Sense and Sensibility, their homes entailed away from the female line and inherited by a male relative upon the death of their father. After the death of Jane's father in 1806, Jane, her elder sister Cassandra and their mother faced a period of uncertainty and financial fear, until they were able to settle into their own home in a house on the Chawton estate of their brother Edward, who had been adopted by wealthy relatives as a child and raised as their heir. Another brother, Jane's favourite Francis, joined the navy to seek his fortune, one of three professions available to the impecunious younger sons of gentlemen, who lacking an independent income, had to earn their living in the church, the military, or the law.

Austen: Mansfield Park (1814)

Writing about what she knew, Austen used these facts of personal experience in her fiction, where the conniving Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice joins the army, Fanny Price in Mansfield Park is adopted by her wealthy Aunt and Uncle Bertram at Mansfield Park when her parents can no longer support their seven children, and Fanny's favourite brother William joins the navy, as does Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion where he makes his reputation and his fortune as a privateer in the Caribbean, capturing ships who may be breaking the British embargo on colonies trading with any country but England.

With her narrative focus on the local events of the drawing rooms, ballrooms and villages, the large events of the day only appear at the edges of Austen's stories. The French Revolution is not mentioned, although the Napoleonic Wars are, to the extent that sailors like Admiral Wentworth and Frederick Wentworth came home after Napoleon was sent to Elba. With the development of the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the new wealthy merchant class is the source of much of the conflict in her books--the scorn of "old money" as represented by the families at Pemberley and Rosings, for the "new money" made in business or trade, as represented by Elizabeth Bennett's relatives the Gardiners. At the time Britain's imperialist and mercantilist economy was expanding, and needed new sources of raw materials abroad--in the West Indies, for example, which were a source of rum and sugar. These places are present only in the backstory of her characters, where, for example, Sophie Wentworth, the wife of the Admiral and the sister of Frederick in Persuasion, tells at a dinner of the time she was posted in the West Indies. At this time the English economy was still profiting from the practice of slavery, which was only abolished in Engliand in 1833. Much of the large landowners' prosperity was built on the exploitation of the slaves on the West Indies estates, such as the property in Antigua Fanny Price's Uncle Bertram had to go to, and the estate Anne's friend Mrs. Smith had an interest in in Persuasion.


Watch Mansfield Park Movie 1999

Austen's Posthumous Books Northanger Abbey and Persuasion 1818

In 1817, Jane Austen died young, at 42, with a manuscript unfinished. The year after her death, her family published her last two finished novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. During the last few years of her life her life her health had been progressively worse, to the point where she could no longer take the country walks she and her heroines loved, but rode around the paths on a donkey.

Her timeless stories have become classics, and her audience continues to grow in a way she could never have imagined. Her popularity is immense, for who today, in whatever culture, doesn't love a good laugh, to hear news about the people in their community, to share sometimes friendly, sometimes malicious gossip, and in the words of Elizabeth Bennett's father, "make sport of our neighbours, and be laughed at in our turn?"

Watch Northanger Abbey

Watch Persuasion 1995

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    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for your comment, Abdelrasoul. She wrote about injustice without hitting us over the head with it. "First Impressions" was her working title, which she later revised.

    • ABDELRASOUL profile image

      ABDELRASOUL 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for choosing Jane Austen. She is the woman who wrote about the unjustice of England against women and how they were deprived from inheriting their fathers and husbands,just because they did not have brothers. That was clear in "Pride and Prejudice" or as some peoplelike tocall it "First Impressions."

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