Jane Austen

English novelist Jane Austen was born 16th December 1775. Austen’s works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years into her thirties. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but tragically died in 18th July 1817 before completing it.

Sense and Sensibility begins upon the death of the elderly Mr Henry Dashwood and his grandson, inherits his house, Norland Park. His second wife, Mrs Dashwood, and their daughters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, inherit only a small income. On his deathbed, Mr Henry Dashwood extracts a promise from his son John to take care of his half-sisters. However John’s greedy wife, Fanny, soon persuades him to renege on the promise claiming that providing the promised help for Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters will unfairly impoverish their son. John and Fanny immediately move in as the new owners of Norland, while the Dashwood women are treated as unwelcome guests by a spiteful Fanny. Mrs Dashwood seeks somewhere else to live. In the meantime, Fanny’s brother, Edward Ferrars visits Norland. Mrs Dashwood moves her family to Barton Cottage in Devonshire, near the home of her cousin, Sir John Middleton. Where they are welcomed into local society, and meet his wife, Lady Middleton, his mother-in-law, the garrulous but well-meaning Mrs Jennings, and his friend, Colonel Brandon. Colonel Brandon is attracted to Marianne, and Mrs Jennings teases them about it displeasing Marianne

Then when Marianne injures herself John Willoughby helps her and Marianne soon succumbs to his charms leading Elinor and Mrs Dashwood to suspect that the couple are secretly engaged. However Mr Willoughby Leaves for London on business upsetting Marianne. Then Edward Ferrars visits Barton Cottage but he seems unhappy. After Edward departs, Anne and Lucy Steele, the vulgar cousins of Lady Middleton, come to stay at Barton Park. Lucy informs Elinor in confidence of her secret four-year engagement to Edward Ferrars. Elinor realises the truth behind Lucy’s visit and revelations. Elinor and Marianne accompany Mrs Jennings to London. Willoughby and Marianne attempt to contact one another before eventually meeting at a dance, however this does not go well.

Colonel Brandon visits the sisters and reveals to Elinor that Willoughby’s aunt disinherited him after she learned that he, seduced, impregnated, then abandoned Brandon’s fifteen-year-old ward, Miss Williams. This is why he chose to marry for money rather than love. Brandon was in love with Miss Williams’ mother as a young man, when she was his father’s ward, but she was forced into an unhappy marriage to Brandon’s elder brother that ended in scandal and divorce; Marianne strongly reminds him of her. The Steele sisters come to London as guests of Mrs Jennings and stay at John and Fanny Dashwood’s London house. Sadly Anne Steele betrays Lucy’s secret and the Steele sisters are evicted and Edward is ordered to break off the engagement on pain of disinheritance. Edward refuses to comply and is immediately disinherited in favour of his brother, however he gains respect and sympathy from Elinor, Marianne and Colonel Brandon. Mrs Jennings takes Elinor and Marianne to visit her second daughter, Mrs. Palmer. Marianne still destraught, becomes dangerously ill. Meanwhile a repentant Willoughby returns regretting his actions. However Marianne realises that she could never have been happy with Willoughby’s immoral, erratic, and inconsiderate nature anyway and marries Colonel Brandon instead

Austen’s works critique the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th-century realism. Her plots, though comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Her work brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews during her lifetime, but the publication in 1869 of her nephew’s A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider public, and by the 1940s she had become widely accepted in academia as a great English writer. The second half of the 20th century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship and the emergence of a Janeite fan culture. Biographical information concerning Jane Austen is “famously scarce”, according to one biographer. Only some personal and family letters remain (by one estimate only 160 out of Austen’s 3,000 letters are extant), and her sister Cassandra (to whom most of the letters were originally addressed) burned “the greater part” of the ones she kept and censored those she did not destroy. Other letters were destroyed by the heirs of Admiral Francis Austen, Jane’s brother. Most of the biographical material produced for fifty years after Austen’s death was written by her relatives and reflects the family’s biases in favour of “good quiet Aunt Jane”. Scholars have unearthed little information since. Since her death Jane Austen’s novels such as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Emma, have all remained popular and have given rise to numerous television and film adaptations.

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