Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775 at the Steventon rectory in northeast Hampshire in Great Britain. Her romantic fiction books, complete with social commentary and harsh realism, have allowed her to be regarded as one of the most important British novelists.
Austen was the seventh of nine children born to Reverend George and Cassandra Austen. Austen’s parents were encouraging of her development as a writer, and at age eight, she and her sister were sent to Oxford boarding school for their formal education, French, and music. After Austen nearly died from typhus, she finished her education at home, reading, writing, and drawing avidly. According to one of Austen’s biographers, Park Honan, Austen lived in “an open, amused, [and] easy intellectual atmosphere,” where politically or socially controversial topics were discussed openly.
Austen began writing poetry, stories, and plays by age twelve, and by age, eighteen, she compiled 29 of her earliest works into three bound volume, calling it Juvenilia. Juvenilia and Austen’s other early works were daring for a woman of the late eighteenth century, including historical parodies and satires that poked fun at social and historical traditions.
Austen’s earliest serious work, Lady Susan, a novella finished in 1795, tells a story in letters of an intellectual sexual predator who uses her wit and charm to manipulate and betray her lovers. After Lady Susan, Austen wrote some of her most famous novels, including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park.
Austen’s novels were generally well received. Sense and Sensibility received encouraging reviews from critics and the first edition sold out within two years of its first publishing in 1811. Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813 was immediately successful; and Mansfield Park, while more or less ignored by the critics, was extremely popular with the public.
Austen died on July 18, 1817, most likely of tuberculosis. Today, Austen’s works remain staples of British literature: her works remain required readings for high school and college literature classes and many of her novels, including Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, have become major motion pictures in both the U.K. and the United States.