Northanger Abbey | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Jane Austen | Biography


Jane Austen's life was closely tied to her large English family and was generally happy despite a series of dislocations. A few months after her birth on December 16, 1775, in rural Steventon in the United Kingdom, she was fostered with a nearby wet nurse through her toddler years, returning to her family at age two. She and Cassandra, her sister and close companion throughout her life, were dispatched to boarding schools (respectively in 1783 and 1785). Austen's formal education ended at age 11 when she and Cassandra left boarding school (in 1786). However, because their clergyman father, George Austen, ran a small boarding school for boys and had a large library, Austen received a vibrant and wide-ranging informal education.

Money was tight for the Austens, and further dislocation was an ever-present threat. Although several men expressed interest in her, Austen never married. As her father aged and retired, diminishing funds and health issues led her parents to relocate to Bath in 1801. The family moved from one set of rented rooms to the next, each a bit smaller and shabbier. Her father's death in 1805 left Cassandra, Jane, and their mother in precarious financial straits. They had no fixed home until Austen's wealthy brother, Edward Knight, finally settled them in Chawton Cottage in 1809.

Austen first tried her hand at writing in Steventon; during the years in Bath and other temporary homes, she continued working on several projects but published nothing. Life in Chawton, however, inspired her to finish revising Sense and Sensibility, which debuted in 1811 under the pseudonym "By a Lady." An 1812 review called the plot "highly pleasing, and interesting" and noted the novel is "just long enough to interest without fatiguing." The first edition sold out quickly, netting Austen £140, more than twice her yearly income. The novel's success encouraged Austen's publisher to release Pride and Prejudice (1813), which debuted to even greater success. These successes eased Austen's financial challenges. She also planned and wrote three more novels: Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Persuasion (1817), and Northanger Abbey (1818). Austen lived in Chawton until her death at 41 on July 18, 1817.

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