As Jane Austenís life began, the global power that was Great Britain, under the rule of King George III was in the midst of a growing conflict with its American colonies which would result in the American Revolutionary War. This military conflict would be the first of three wars Great Britain would participate in during Austenís short life. A decade after the North American colonies gained independence, the British Empire in the wake of the French Revolution would enter the Napoleonic Wars, and by 1812 was once again clashing with its former protectorate the United States. During this period of foreign upheaval the domestic English society in which Jane Austen was born into, women were not usually given the educational opportunities offered to men and marriage was the only viable option for economic security and being part of the social norm. Ironically, while most of Austenís works centered on the business of providing husbands for daughters, she never married leading to speculation on her sexuality and social graces.
In the 18th century English society in which Jane Austen lived, the male members of a family were given educational opportunities that were not always afforded to the ladies of the household. Fortunately for Austen, she was born into a family that valued education to both sons and daughters, and she was encouraged by her family to produce literature. Born in Hampshire England in the parish of Steventon, she was the daughter of Reverend George and Cassandra Leigh Austen. She came into the world on December 16, 1775 and was the sixth child in a family of five boys and two girls. Reverend Austen was a refined and successful clergyman who fostered education in his family so Jane and her siblings received most of their schooling at home. Reading and play acting were favorite past times of the children, so Jane began her writings at an early age, and at times used them for family entertainment. Some of her earliest writings were Eleanor and Marianne and Lady Susan both written in 1795. In 1796 she wrote First Impressions. From 1797 to 1798 Austen wrote three novels; Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 and it is the story of two sisters and their romantic adventures. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 and tells the tale of the five Bennett sisters and their search for husbands. Northanger Abbey was published in 1818 and was a satire of the popular gothic romances of the era.
In 1801, the Austen family moved to Bath and in 1805 Reverend Austen died. The family left Bath for Clifton in 1806 and then to Castle Square, Southampton in 1807. In 1809, they settled at Chawton Hampshire in a home owned by Janeís brother Edward. By 1811, after a period of unproductiveness, Jane quickly created three new novels; Mansfield Park in 1811, Emma in 1814 and Persuasion in 1815, all of which deal with romantic entanglements of strongly characterized heroines.
Although Jane Austen wrote of romance and idealistic love she never married. She was engage briefly to Harris Bigg Wither a long time friend, but she withdrew from the offer the following day. She was considered an attractive and intelligent woman so these were not deterrents to marriage. Jane lived with her mother, her sister Cassandra and a friend Martha Lloyd in Hampshire England until Jane moved to Winchester in May of 1817 because of ill health. Diagnosed with Addisonís disease, a tubercular disease of the kidneys, Austen was only forty one years old when she died in her sisters arms in the early hours of July 18, 1817. Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral.
Jane Austen is now thought of as one of the greatest English authors and considered by many as the first great woman novelist. Austen wrote of the provincial life times in which she lived and had sufficient knowledge of the middle class, gentry and aristocracy, and these surroundings became the places and characters of her novels. The plots of her works focus on misunderstood feelings, human weakness and social obligations. Her novels are still being republished with most of them gaining present day acceptance and have been made into motion picture and television productions. The characters of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice; Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility, and Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightly of Emma have become the romantic counterparts of todayís ďchick flicksĒ.
Overall, the pretty, clever Jane Austen, author of six books, four which were published before her death, was a woman of true intellectual talent and passion for her time. She left an indelible imprint on a literary world that did not accept her talents during her lifetime. Although she was not recognized for her work during her life because of her writing style, her character development, and because she was female, Austen is remembered for rising above the social restrictions that were placed on women during the late 18th and early 19th century producing literature that inspires and influences readers today.
Austen-Leigh, William and Richard Arthur. Jane Austen: Her Life and Letters: A Family Record,
2ed. New York: Russell& Russell, 1965.
This book, written by the son and grand-son of Jane Austen's nephew, Rev James Edward (Austen-Leigh), author of The Memoir of Jane Austen, has information received from several close relatives of Jane Austen, including her nephew, brothers and close friends. The authors do point out that they do not have all the letters of Jane Austen, but this book is used by many authors when doing research on Jane Austen. This book also provides a detailed Austen-Leigh family tree.
Bois, Danuta. "Distinguished Women of the Past and Present.Ē (No Date) <http://www.distinguishedwomen.com>. (28 September 2005).
This website created by Bois a cell biologist with no academic credentials in womenís studies, aims to discover and provide information about accomplished women who we learned little or nothing about. This site is the complete package for any research involving women and provides links to numerous women who have impacted our past and present. The site involves women from all countries and eras, and the subjects can be found by profession or alphabetically. This site is one large link page and connects the researcher to other web sites for a listed individual. The Jane Austen information page is a very detailed site containing two separate tables of contents: one short and the other long: This site gives detailed information on all aspects of Austen's life and presents a large family tree. Each lit area on the tree takes a person to a brief biography on that individual. This site is full of valuable information and can be a valuable asset to any researcher looking for information on Austen or one of the other numerous women provided.
Chapman, R.W. Jane Austen's Letters to her Sister Cassandra and Others. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1952.
Chapman's book gives a revealing look into the life of Jane Austen. The limitations on the book are expressed by the author personally, he expresses that not all of the letters written by Jane Austen were available. The missing letters were either sold or destroyed by the recipient. Chapman is one author that researchers refer to when doing work on Austenís life. This book in particular is one of the most referenced in Jane Austen biographies.
Collins, Irene. "Jane Austen: A Writer for all Seasons." The Historian. Autumn 1997. 10-14.
Collins' article gives a brief biography on Jane Austen. More importantly, Collins explains about some problems of being a female writer during Austen's life time. Collins also addresses some questions about Austen not being married. Collins gives a thorough look into Austen in a short article and also provides several books for additional reading into the life of Jane Austen.
Gooneratne, Yasmine. Jane Austen. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970.
Goonerate, a senior lecturer of English literature at the University of Ceylon provides a critical introduction to Austenís writing. The author seeks to direct new and old readers of Austen to the structures of the works themselves and to provide his own personal and professional insight. Biographical information on Austen is kept to a minimum and I would recommend this source to both beginners and experts on Austenís literary work
Halperin, John. The Life of Jane Austen. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.
Although Halperin's book contains much information about the life of Jane Austen, it contains very few sources and provides little additional insight into the life of the famed novelist. Halperin provides only a small portion of Austen's family tree and gives readers only a handful of available portraits of the significant places and people in Austen's life. However, Halperin does open each chapter with various quotes from either Austen's novels or prominent writers of the time. The research done for these quotes should have been used to acquire new and additional information about Jane Austen.
Hipchen, Emily. ďThe American Society of Jane Austen Scholars Homepage.Ē (1997) <http://facstaff.uww.edu/hipchene/JAusten/home.htm>. (2 November 2005).
This website created by Dr. Emily Hipchen, a professor of literature at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is a home for a society of people who are interested in Jane Austen studies. The society produces two electronic publications The Austen Quarterly and J.A. News. This site also provides links to other Austen societies and 18th Century Romanticism resources. Recommended for a researcher looking for varying interpretations of Austenís works.
Hodge, Jane Aiken. Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan inc., 1972.
Hodge a Harvard educated journalist and author of several historical novels approaches Austenís life from an outsiderís perspective. Hodge looks into all aspects of Austen's life and though it appears she is a fan of Austen's, the book is written from a professional unbiased point of view. Hodge relays only the facts and does not interpret any open questions that may appear. The book, as most on Austen, is written chronologically. There are pieces of information that Hodge gives that separates this book from others. This information includes: accounts ledgers from several book sales and Austen's hand written will. Hodge does use several sources in the book, but not enough to give a full analysis of Jane Austen. Hodge also provides a much abbreviated Austen-Leigh family tree.
Honan, Park. Jane Austen: Her Life. New York: St Martin's Press, 1987.
Unlike some sources on Austen, which are concerned with republishing her own personal letters, Honan focuses on the novelist's personal and family life. Honan uses fifteen pages just for notes on sources, has twenty illustrations and also provides a very detailed family tree of the Austen-Leighís. Honan's book is extensive and provides several ideas of why Jane Austen may have used family members and friends as characters in her novels. Honan's use of primary and secondary sources makes this book well worth using when investigating the life of Jane Austen.
Kaye-Smith, Shelia and G.B. Stern. Speaking of Jane Austen. New York: Harper Brothers Publishers, 1944.
Written by Kaye ĖSmith and Stern both admitted Janeites; they produced a source that focuses on Austenís literary works and her possible motivations for the development of her characters within the novels. The authors interpret Austenís own personal letters to family and friends, which reflect her views on education and class consciousness. The authors do not provide a biography and take turns alternating authorship from chapter to chapter. Recommended for a true Austen fan who is seeking information on what influenced her, but this work does not provide much biographical information
Klingel-Ray, Joan. "Jane Austen Society of North America." (1997) <http://www.jasna.org/index.html>. (2 October 2005).
This website founded by Joan Klingel-Ray, professor of English at the University of Colorado was activated in 1997. The Jane Austen Society of North America was established in 1979 and is composed of scholars and well read amateurs who share an enthusiasm for the genius of Jane Austen. This site provides basic background, hard to find information and obscure facts about Austen.
Knight, Richard. ďThe Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom.Ē (No Date) <http://www.janeaustensoci.freeuk.com/>. (3 November 2005).
The Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom was founded in 1940 by Dorothy Darnell and is currently headed by Richard Knight. The goals of the society and its site are to promote the study of Austenís life and work, to preserve the manuscripts, letters and memorabilia of Austen and her family, and to support the work of the Jane Austen Memorial Trust. It offers a brief biography, paintings and portraits of both Austen and her family home in Steventon. This site provides a solid starting point for basic background information and tends to focus on Austenís family life.
Lascelles, Mary. Jane Austen and her Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.
Lascelles provides a work that focuses primarily on the development of the narrative art which was the cornerstone of Austenís writing. Jane Austen and Her Art begins with a brief yet thorough biography, and then the author turns her attention to Austenís ideas, characters, and style of writing. While dissecting Austenís novels from a literary perspective, Lascelles also investigates Austenís desires, motivations, and the possible incentives of her art. For a researcher looking into the depths of Austen's life, this would not be the book to use, but it does provide valuable information on Austen the writer. The books real value to a researcher would be its limited bibliography. The bibliography would lead a person into the very basics of other important sources of information.
MacDonald, Oliver. Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
Macdonald's approach to this work makes it truly unique from most Jane Austen biographies. The author acknowledges that the work is that of an amateur: MacDonald claims to not be an expert in either literature or on Jane Austen. MacDonald area of expertise is in history. And this is where the book stands out. MacDonald analyzes Austen's book through a historical perspective and shines light on the social, economic and religious influences of the time Jane Austen wrote her novels.
Matsuoka, Mitsuhara. ďJane Austen: A Hyper-Concordance to the Works of Jane Austen.Ē (1995) <http://www.lang.nagoya-u.ac.jp/%7Ematsuoka/Austen.html>. (4 October 2005).
Matsuoka a professor of English literature at Nagoya University developed this website in 1995. Matsuoka provides over fifty Jane Austen web resources which provide excellent background information on the novelist. This sites links are easy to access and most are still active. Matsuoka has produced an informative web page that is highly useful for any student or researcher who is beginning to investigate Jane Austen.
Pinion, F.B. A Jane Austen Companion: A Critical Survey and Reference
Book. New York: The MacMillan Press, 1973.
Pinion looks through the most important works of Jane Austen from a literary point of view. Pinion also gives the reader a brief biography on Austen, but gives no new information. Two things separate this book from other works about Austen. The first is the number of illustrations that give a reader insight into the world and people that influenced Jane Austen's characters. The second is the detailed bibliography that Pinion provides. Not only is it extensive, but Pinion also provides an annotation under each source, giving a person a guide to very valuable sources for Jane Austen research.
Robens, Myretta. ďThe Republic Pembery: Haven for Jane Austen Addicts.Ē(1996) <http://www.pemberley.com/index.html>. (2 October 2005).
This website is run by a volunteer committee headed by Myretta Robens. As the title of the site implies, this is a fan based site which provides the most basic biographical information along with more obscure facts. A highlight of this site is a link which provides portraits of Jane Austen and her family members. Recommended for basic information on Austen, but a researcher might want to proceed cautiously on such a fan based site.
Tanner, Tony. Jane Austen. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986.
Tanner, a Cambridge scholar offers this book as a reading of Jane Austenís novels and he attempts to see her works in relation to problems in society, education, and language. Tanner began this project in 1966 and almost twenty years later finished his thoughts on the literary life of Jane Austen. While focusing on Austenís literary accomplishments, Tanner avoids her upbringing and personal life. Recommended for a student or fan of Austen with an advanced knowledge of her novels.
Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen: A Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Tomalin an experienced biographer focuses on Austenís family, friends, and acquaintances, but does not fully concentrate on Austen herself. Tomalin does provide helpful resources such as family trees and a map of the Hampshire neighborhood of the Austenís. An informative resource for a researcher interested in Austenís family background and the possible influences of those involved in her every day life had on her literary work.
Tucker, George Holbert. Jane Austen: The Woman. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
Tucker approaches Austen's life as an outsider, and views not only her work but her private and public lives. Tucker arranges his book not chronologically but topically, looking at Austenís scandals, romance, journeys and religion, as well as other aspects of Austen's life and times. Tucker's eight pages of bibliographical information shows that the author has put in extensive research into this project, Recommended as an informative starting point for any research on Austenís life and literature.
Walker, Nora. ďJane Austen Society of Australia Incorporated.Ē (1995) <http://www.jasa.net.au/>. (28 September 2005).
Founded by Nora Walker and currently run by Susanna Fullerton the Jane Austen Society of Australia attempts to bring together Austen admirers in this part of the world. This website provides the basics such as biographical information and interpretations of Austenís literature, but it also contains some rarer primary sources such as Austenís obituary and will. This site would make a solid starting point for research on Austen.
Wilkes, Joanne. " 'Song of the Dying Swan'?: The Nineteenth-Century Response to Persuasion."
Studies in the Novel. Spring 1996, 38-56.
Wilkes' article, written from a feminist perspective, clearly illustrates the prejudices that Austen faced as a writer. The article reviews past and present criticisms of Austen's book Persuasion. Wilkes provides and uses a wide variety of sources to support this article. This article is what should be read to find past and present criticisms on Austen's novels
Williams, Michael. Jane Austen: Six Novels and Their Methods. New York: St. Martinís Press, 1986.
Williams provides an in depth look at Austenís six novels and the motivations behind them. Peering through Austenís writing from a literary perspective, Williams concerns himself with the works themselves and tends to ignore her personal background. Using over 175 sources, the author provides a great resource for any researcher interested in Austenís approach to writing.
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