Jane Austen (16 December 1775 18 July 1817) was an English author who lived in the late 18th/early 19th century and wrote six novels between 1790 and 1817 before dying at the age of 41. Her books were published anonymously during her lifetime, but she is now one of the most famous authors in the English language.
Her novels are written with wit and frequent irony, and all follow a similar formula: gentlewoman sooner or later falls in love with man but can't marry him because he's engaged to someone else/he's in love with someone else/etc. Often there are cads to tempt her as well, but ultimately she ends up with the good guy who won't steal all her money or abandon her somewhere. There's far more variety among her heroines in terms of personality, though. She specialized in two types: Spirited Young Lady, the lively, witty, restless heroine who never fears to speak her mind (Elizabeth Bennet, Marianne Dashwood, Emma Woodhouse); and the quiet, Stoic Woobie who rarely if ever speaks her mind since everyone misjudges her anyway (Elinor Dashwood, Fanny Price, Anne Elliot).
Despite being nominally romance novels, and writing in a period that overlapped with Romanticism, Austen's works are not classified as Romantic-with-a-capital-R. Austen strikes a balance between Romanticism and Enlightenment: her happy endings are born of social harmony as well as warmth of feeling.
Austen is well-known for her wit, satire, and proto-feminism; serious critics consider her to be the equal of Cervantes, Milton, and Shakespeare. Virginia Woolf called her the first truly great female author, and the first good English author to have a distinctly feminine writing style. Rex Stout considered her the greatest English writer ever—yes, even above Shakespeare. Heady praise from a man who claimed to have previously believed that men did everything better than women.
Unfortunately, little of her personal correspondence survives (of the 3,000 letters she wrote, about 161 still exist). Her sister Cassandra burned most of it and redacted segments of what she didn't burn, evidently out of concern that Jane's privately-expressed opinions of certain family and friends would cause a great deal of posthumous drama. The popularity of her novels in the following decades resulted in further redactions by her relatives, who wanted to present a public image of the good and proper maiden aunt instead of whatever messier and more complicated details might be expected of any person.
Jane Austen also has the distinction of being one of the few classic authors beloved by both the academy (her novels are a popular choice for School Study Media) and popular culture, thanks to the devoted Austen fan community who call themselves "Janeites." Her novels are also frequently adapted into films, especially Pride and Prejudice and Emma (which was also the inspiration for Clueless).
She ended at #70 in 100 Greatest Britons.
The novels, in order of publication:
- Sense and Sensibility (1811)
- Pride and Prejudice (1813)
- Mansfield Park (1814)
- Emma (1815)
- Northanger Abbey (1818)
- Persuasion (1818)
- Lady Susan (1871)
- Love and Freindship (novella) (1790)
Persuasion was published posthumously by her brother in a volume along with Northanger Abbey, although the latter was actually the first she completed (Jane herself often wondered why its initial publisher paid for the book and then didn't publish it). There's also lots of juvenalia that she probably didn't expect anyone to read (outside her closest family), let alone publish, and two unfinished novels called The Watsons, which she abandoned in the wake of her father's death, and Sanditon, left unfinished by her own death.
Appearances in other media:
- She appeared several times on Hark! A Vagrant. See this comic◊.
- The film Becoming Jane is loosely based on her life.
- TV movie Miss Austen Regrets portrays her later years.
- Adaptation of her novel Mansfield Park incorporated some of Jane Austen's character traits, writing and life events into the character of Fanny.
- She's in Hell in Old Harry's Game.
- She appears in Saints Row IV, of all games, as the narrator. Both the Boss and Zinyak are also stated to be fans of hers.
- In 2017 she appeared on the UK £10 banknote, replacing Charles Darwin.
- She pops up in Edgar Allan Poe's Murder Mystery Dinner Party.
- The Legends of Tomorrow episode "Seance and Sensibility" features her in her time at Bath, despairing of ever being published and embarrassing her family with her snarky comments on the neighbours.
- The Discworld novel Snuff has a "Jane Gordon" who is sort of composite of Austen herself and her beloved creation Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
- Oh, and she also apparently wrote the "novel" Mafia! which was finally made into a movie in 1998.note
Works by Jane Austen (other than those with their own page) contain examples of:
- Accomplice by Inaction: In the unfinished The Watsons, the eldest brother Robert lets his sisters live in relative poverty, except the one he invites home.
- Disinherited Child: Emma Watson is brought up by her wealthy aunt and she's openly acknowledged as her child and heiress. However, Emma's aunt is widowed and later re-marries, and then Emma has to return home to her much poorer family.
- Draco in Leather Pants: An in-universe example with Sir Edward Denham in Sanditon:"With a perversity of judgement, which must be attributed to his not having by Nature a very strong head, the Graces, the Spirit, the Sagacity, and the Perseverance, of the Villain of the Story outweighed all his absurdities and all his Atrocities with Sir Edward. With him, such Conduct was Genius, Fire and Feeling. It interested and inflamed him; and he was always more anxious for its Success and mourned over its Discomfitures with more Tenderness than could ever have been contemplated by the Authors."
- Fan Community Nicknames: Some of her fans call themselves "Janeites".
- Good-Looking Privates: In The Watsons (fragment of a novel), Mary Edwards is courted by Captain Hunter. After a ball, her mother is not very satisfied that Mary had been dancing with military men only, and neglected their neighbours because of them. Particularly a certain son of a certain rich banker."Mary was surrounded by red-coats all the evening. I should have been better pleased to see her dancing with some of our old neighbours, I confess."
- Massive Numbered Siblings:
- Charlotte Heywood in Sanditon comes from a family of 14 children.
- The Watsons from The Watsons are a large family: sisters Elizabeth, Penelope, Margaret and youngest Emma and brothers Richard and Sam.
- Regency England: Regency England is the setting of her novels. It's always somewhat idealised version of it, focusing on pastoral idyll of the countryside, visits, balls and dances, dinner parties, garden parties and picnics. Her focus is the upper-middle class.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: In Sanditon, Mr. Parker treats the rival seaside town of Brinshore as one — he always finds faults with Brinshore and considers Sanditon vastly superior. It's very entertaining, considering how Sanditon and Brinshore are practically identical.
- Spin-Off Cookbook: The Jane Austen Cookbook. It describes Jane Austen's interest in food, drawing upon both the novels and her letters. It has authentic recipes from late Georgian and Regency England, modernized for today's cooks.
- Word of God: The futures of many of the characters, particularly secondary characters, are left unexplained in the novels. Fortunately for us, Austen had several nieces and nephews who were big fans of Aunt Jane's writing, and they recorded her answers to their questions:
- According to her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen, Anne Steele never succeeded in catching Doctor; Kitty Bennet married a clergyman near Pemberley and her sister Mary married one of her uncle Philips clerks; the considerable sum Mrs Norris gave her nephew William Price was one pound; Mr Woodhouse died two years after Emma's marriage, and Emma and Mr Knightley settled in Donwell after his death; and the letters Frank Churchill placed before Jane Fairfax, which she swept away unread, contained the word 'pardon'.
- A later family biography (Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters) adds the claim that Jane Fairfax died nine or ten years after her wedding, but even the writers (a hundred years after Austen's death) weren't sure about the origins of that one.
- According to Jane Austen: A Family Record, Austen's sister Cassandra revealed the basic plot of the unfinished The Watsons to one of their nieces—Mr Watson dies, forcing his daughters to move in with their sister-in-law and brother, Emma turns down a proposal from Lord Osborne, and tension abounds due to Lady Osborne's passion for Mr Howard and his interest in Emma. Emma and Mr Howard would eventually marry.