Jane Austen I Oxford Open Learning

Jane Austen

Celebrated English novelist Jane Austen was born on 16th December 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire. One of eight children, Jane began to write as a teenager, but to acquire a formal education, Jane and her beloved sister Cassandra were sent to boarding school. During this time, Jane and her sister caught typhus, with Jane nearly dying of the illness. The sisters didn’t remain in boarding school long, returning home due to the family running out of money for their fees.

Writing in bound notebooks in the 1790s, Jane started to plan some novels. She wrote Love and Freindship (not Friendship!), a parody of romantic fiction which she presented as a series of love letters. The following year Jane wrote The History of England…, again a parody, this time of historical writing, and including illustrations drawn by Cassandra. These early works by Austen, encompassing novels as well as short stories, poems and plays, are referred to as the Juvenilia.

In 1801 Jane and her family moved to Bath. After the death of Jane’s father four years later, Jane, Cassandra and their mother moved often, eventually settling in Chawton, Hampshire.

It was Jane’s brother Henry who helped Jane to arrange a publisher for her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, in 1811. Her next novel, which was to become her most famous, Pride and Prejudice, followed soon after. Mansfield Park was published in 1814, then Emma in 1816. On publication, all Jane Austen’s novels were published anonymously.

In 1816, Jane began to suffer from ill-health again, probably Addison’s disease. She travelled to Winchester to receive treatment, but died there on 18 July 1817. Two more novels, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously and a final novel was left incomplete. It was only then, after her death, that Jane’s work began to be published in her own name.

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”
“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”

Jane Austen

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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