Jane Austen through the years

When Jane Austen started writing as a teenager, it would have been impossible to perceive how enduring her books would be. Born in Steventon, Hampshire in 1775 England, Jane was one of eight children of a clergyman. During her life she spent time in Bath and lived in Chawton, Hampshire. All of Jane’s works were published anonymously, and her brother, Henry, had to help her negotiate with a publisher. Jane’s work looked at the landed gentry, observing and sometimes satirising the way that they lived. Her heroines are strong women with their own ideas and opinions.

Contemporary reviewers thought the plot of Emma was dull, and a fellow novelist, Mary Russell Mitford, said that Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice showed “an entire want of taste.” Audiences at the time seemed to think the same, and during her lifetime, Jane’s work was not a commercial success. The idea that true love could overcome obstacles like social standing was actually quite revolutionary for the time.

Jane died in Winchester in 1817 and is buried in Winchester Cathedral, where her epitaph praises the “extraordinary endowments of her mind” but does not mention her achievements as a writer. Since 1833, Jane’s novels have been continuously in print.

We continue to read her because we feel as we though we can still understand her characters, their feelings and the way they act the way they do. This despite the fact that the books were written over two hundred years ago. Jane’s work is universal, and has inspired several spin-offs, such as Bridget Jones’s Diary, a whole new genre in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, as well as countless television and film adaptations. In September 2017, a new £10 note was introduced by the Bank of England featuring Jane, the only woman – apart from the Queen – to feature on an English bank note. During the announcement she was declared “one of the greatest writers in English literature.” It is impossible to deny that Jane’s work is still extremely relevant in our modern world.

-Rebecca Sampson
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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