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Emma | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Jane Austen | Biography


Jane Austen, born in 1775 in the country hamlet of Hampshire, England, was the seventh of eight children and the second girl. Her father was a gentleman and Anglican clergyman who kept an extensive library and encouraged his children to read.

Mostly educated at home, Austen led a simple life but had access to the wider world through her brothers. Two served in the navy, one lived in London, and one brother was made the legal heir of a wealthy, childless relative, allowing him to become a member of the "landed gentry," property owners who were not obliged to engage in business.

Emma (1815) was Austen's fourth novel. She based it on her life in Hampshire and said of it, "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." After finishing it, she was afraid readers would not like it as much as they had Pride and Prejudice (1813). Both novels today are considered masterpieces of English literature.

Austen enjoyed some critical acclaim (and money) for her work but remained anonymous as an author. After she died at age 41 of Addison's disease (in 1817), her brother Henry revealed her identity and also published her last two novels posthumously. Austen's novels have earned her an honored place as one of the great English writers. She is still widely read, and film adaptations have kept her work alive in the popular mind.

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