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Austen, Jane

Country/Region:
United Kingdom
Born:
December 16, 1775
Dead:
July 18, 1817
Genres:
Miscellaneous prose
The English author Jane Austen was born in in Steventon, Hampshire as the second last of seven children. Her father was a well-to-do vicar with literary interests, and his daughter learned to read and write with his help. Jane Austen and her favorite sister Cassandra attended a girls' school in Berkshire in 1785-86 and, after her return home, Austen started her first literary production of comic essays and short stories, which were written and read to the family. She compiled these works into three volumes, which were never published during her lifetime. Also her literarily interested brother James contributed to an artistic home environment by staging amateur theatre plays with siblings, cousins, and friends. As her brothers formed families elsewhere, Austen's social frames of reference widened and she got new material for her stories. There are few known facts about her between 1776 and 1795, but it can be established with certainty that she wrote the drafts for her novels during these years. In 1801 she moved to Bath, in 1806 to Southampton and finally, together with her mother and Cassandra, back to Hampshire in 1809. After returning to her home area, she began the revision of one of her texts for publication as fiction. Jane Austen lived a quiet life and never married, but it is thought that she was secretly engaged to Tom Lefroy for a time. She died in a kidney disease in 1817 and never got to experience the planned publications of her two last completed novels. One of her nephews wrote the first biography about her in 1870-71. Jane Austen is one of the pioneers among English female novelists. Sentimental novels like Samuel Richardson's Pamela (1740) and Clarissa (1747-49) had dominated the book market until the 1790's, but at the end of the century female British authors developed a more domestically-oriented sentimental novel. With Ann Radcliffe, also the interest in Gothic literature increased. Austen's novels were overall well received, but she did not reach the same sales successes as her contemporaries Maria Edgeworth and Sir Walter Scott. The mixed reception may be due partly to the fact that it was difficult for female authors to be taken seriously and partly to that Austen wrote in an everyday-life realistic style that was foreign to Romanticism. She did, however, receive benevolent reviews by Scott who nevertheless was reluctant to call her works fiction. While Scott wrote historical novels and referred to a male literary tradition represented by Shakespeare among others and with roots in the ballads, Austen's novels take place within the sphere of the family. They do not include any fantasy or mythical characters but rather give an authentic and psychologically deeper picture of the rural life of the lower nobility to which she herself belonged. Large public locations such as London, Bath, and Lyme are mentioned by name, while she gives more discreet information about smaller villages in order not to reveal real persons. With the breakthrough of realism Austen's novels have become increasingly appreciated and she has had much significance for the British novel tradition. Virginia Woolf belongs to those who have appreciated Austen's novel writing very highly. Elegance, sharp irony, and a biting and unfailing dialogue are characteristic of her style.

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