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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 at the Parsonage house of Steventon in Hampshire. Her father, George Austen, who was a rector in the parish, was a fellow at Oxford and a scholar.
Jane Austen had five brothers and one sister. Her oldest brother was James. Well-read in English literature, he could also write well. Jane was influenced by him in her reading habits. Edward, her second brother, was adopted by a wealthy relative in Kent. Although Jane was separated from him in childhood, they spent happy times together later in life. Her third brother, Henry, became a clergyman. He helped Jane to publish her novels. Francis and Charles, her two younger brothers, were sailors who served in the Great War. They both rose to the rank of Admirals, and Jane was proud of them. Cassandra, her only sister (three years her senior), was Jane's favorite sibling. She was sensible and calm but not as cheerful as Jane. The sisters shared a fine rapport.
More than half her life Jane Austen spent in Steventon Parsonage. This countryside upon the hills of North Hants "with broad and leafy hedgerows, beneath which grew the primrose, the anemone, and the wild hyacinth" inspired Jane to write three of her novels: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Northanger Abbey. However, these novels were published only later in her life. Jane also spent many moments of her childhood and youth in Bath, in the company of her cousins, Edward and Jane Cooper. Bath thus is mentioned in some of her novels.
ane Austen had a happy childhood. She had a secure home and a harmonious family life. She spent many blissful days in the company of her brothers and sisters. She enjoyed the simple pleasures of life. Besides reading, she loved singing and playing the piano. She loved dancing, too, and attended many balls.
Jane Austen was healthy and attractive. She had a rich complexion, round cheeks, hazel eyes and curly brown hair. She was tall and slender. It is surprising that such a beautiful woman decided to remain unwed. It is believed that as a young woman, she was involved with a charming gentleman, although the relationship failed to materialize.
As a young lady, Jane would observe the manners and eccentricities of the men and women around her. She absorbed the scenes she had witnessed. Thus she skillfully recreates a charming world filled with men and women of the upper middle class of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.
In 1801, when Jane was twenty-five, her father retired from his clerical duties and left for Bath. Thus Jane had to bid a fond farewell to the place of her birth and childhood, just as Marianne does when she leaves Norland. In 1805, after her father's death, she again had to change her residence to Southampton. Here they lived until 1809 in "a large, old-fashioned house in Castle Square, with a garden bounded by the city wall." From Southampton Jane would visit Portsmouth to enjoy its seascape and to take part in dances at the balls.
In 1809, Jane left Southampton with her mother and sister for Chawton (near Winchester), where her brother, Edward Knight, had provided them a cottage which was situated on a high-road and had a cozy garden with "hornbeam hedge . . . grassplots, walks and shrubberies suitable for exercise and compositions." In such a peaceful atmosphere, Jane was inspired to write three of her novels; Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. All her novels were published.
Jane Austen was widely appreciated and acclaimed as a novelist although she preferred to remain anonymous. Sir Walter Scott called her a young lady with "a talent for describing the involvements of feelings and characters of ordinary life" and Macaulay called her novels "charming . . . compositions nearer to perfection." Even the Prince Regent of England had admired her as a novelist. Austen therefore dedicated her novel, Emma, to the Prince.
In 1816 Jane Austen's health began to fail. She had to slow down her activities. In 1817 she was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She had to remain in bed and was attended to by all her family members, especially her sister, who was her companion until her death. Jane Austen was grateful to all those who took care of her. She remained cheerful to the end. On the morning of July 18, 1817 she breathed her last breath, after uttering the words, "Nothing but death.".