Jane Austen was an English novelist whose rigorous literary craftsmanship, subtle irony, and insights into women's lives have greatly influenced the development of the English novel.
She was born on 16 December 1775, in the village of Steventon, in the county of Hampshire in Southern England. The seventh of eight children of the Reverend George Austen and his wife, Cassandra, she was educated mainly at home and never lived away from her family. She had a happy childhood among all her brothers and the other boys who lodged with the family and whom Mr Austen tutored. From her older sister, Cassandra, she was inseparable.
As a young woman, she enjoyed dancing at local balls, walking in the Hampshire countryside and visiting friends. It was this world - of the minor landed gentry, in the village, the neighbourhood, and the country town, with occasional visits to Bath and to London - that she was to use in the settings, characters, and subject matter of her novels.
Jane Austen’s lively and affectionate family circle provided a stimulating context for her writing. She was an avid reader. She read both the serious and the popular literature of the day. She was very familiar with 18th century novels, including the works of Richardson and Fielding.
In Jane Austen's era, novels were often depreciated as trash; Coleridge's opinion was that "where the reading of novels prevails as a habit, it occasions in time the entire destruction of the powers of the mind". Yet Jane Austen once wrote in a letter that she and her family were "great novel-readers, and not ashamed of being so"; moreover in her novel Northanger Abbey she gave her "Defence of the Novel", even though she was also making fun of the falseness to real life of many novels of the era throughout Northanger Abbey.
Jane Austen started writing in her early teens. Her earliest works included parodies of the literature of the day and were originally written for the amusement of her relatives and family friends.
At the age of 14 she wrote her first novel, Love and Freindship (sic) and then A History of England by a partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian. In her early twenties Jane Austen wrote the novels that were later to be re-worked and published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. She also began a novel called The Watsons which was never completed.
In 1801 the family moved away to Bath. Mr Austen gave the Steventon living to his son James and retired to Bath with his wife and two daughters. The next four years were difficult ones for Jane. She disliked the confines of a busy town and missed her Steventon life. The lifestyle that her family enjoyed there is very accurately portrayed in her novels which contain finely observed and recorded snapshots of the particular stratum of English society in which the Austen family lived.
In 1802, Jane Austen, at the age of 27, received a marriage proposal from a wealthy young man named Harris Bigg-Wither, whom she first accepted, but then refused the next day. Having refused this offer of marriage, she subsequently never married.