Life and work
Jane Austen’s life resembles her novels—at first glance they seem to be composed of a series of quiet, unexceptional events. Such an impression is supported by the comment of her brother, Henry, who wrote after her death that her life was “not by any means a life of event” or “uneventful.” Similarly, her nephew James added in a biography published fifty years later that “Of events her life was singularly barren: few changes and no great crisis ever broke the smooth current of its course.” However, just as readers find that the complexity of Austen’s novel lies in its characters and style, those studying Austen herself discover that the events of her life are secondary to her compelling personality, quick wit, and highly-developed powers of observation. The fact that Austen’s life lacked the drama that other authors may have experienced in no way detracted from her skill as a writer. In actuality, Austen’s lack of “extraordinary” experiences, as well as of a spouse and children, probably made her writing possible by freeing her time to work on her books. Additionally, because her books were published anonymously, Austen never achieved personal recognition for her works outside of her sphere of family and friends. Such anonymity suited her, for, as literary critic Richard Blythe notes, “literature, not the literary life, was always her intention.”
Born on December 16, 1775, Jane Austen was the seventh of eight children born to George and Cassandra Austen. The family lived in Steventon, a small Hampshire town in south-central England, where her father was a minister. The Austens were a loving, spirited family that read novels together from the local circulating library and put on home theatricals. It was for the family circle that Austen first wrote high-spirited satires—some of which later became novels after numerous and careful rewritings.
Out of her seven siblings, Austen was closest to her only sister, Cassandra.... [continua]
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