BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF JANE AUSTEN
Jane Austen was born in 1775, the sixth of seven children and the second and last girl to the Rev. George Austen and Cassandra Leigh of Steventon Rectory in Hampshire. Her mother and father appear to have been attentive yet relaxed, enlightened parents. With the exception of two brief periods at girls' boarding schools, the first when Jane was seven, she was educated at home chiefly by her father, a humane, well-informed man with a large library. Otherwise Steventon Rectory remained her home until she was twenty-five. Then, suddenly, her parents decided to leave Steventon for Bath, taking Jane and Cassandra, two years older, to Bath. Jane appears to have suffered from the displacement a prolonged depression, for she ceased writing. Following her father’s death in 1805, the three Austen women to save money moved to Southampton and then to Chawton Cottage, which belonged to her wealthy brother Edward Austen-Leigh. Chawton became her permanent home. She died at Winchester on July 18, 1817, where she had gone for medical treatment of, it is thought, Addison’s Disease, a kidney ailment.
She appears to have been in love once when she was twenty. At a ball given by friends she met Tom Lefroy, who lived in and was educated in Ireland but was about to study for the Bar in London. They saw one another over some three weeks, and he later confessed to being in love with her. But because he came from a large Huguenot family living in Ireland, the son of an army officer without means, the family's future well-being hinged precariously on Tom's career and marriage. Jane had no dowry to speak of, and so Tom simply disappeared, leaving for London and his pursuit of a remunerative career that would return him to Ireland as a barrister. In 1802 she accepted a proposal of marriage from a man somewhat younger than she, the brother of her close and nearly lifelong friends, the Bigg sisters, and the eventual inheritor of a significant Hampshire estate but by the next morning she thought better her acceptance and withdrew it.
She was a devoted aunt and friend to some of her nieces, participating in their romances and writing projects. She and Cassandra, whose fiancé died in the Caribbean, were intimate friends and avid correspondents when apart; both were also much involved with their brothers' families. An elder brother with literary aspirations encouraged his siblings to mount and perform in family theatricals, and Jane became at a young age an enthusiastic playwright and sometime poet. Her father encouraged her free use of his large library, and she read widely in English literature, especially in the earlier 18th c. but also in contemporary dramatists, novelists, and essayists. Her fiction grew in outlook and expanded somewhat beyond the gentry to include more attention to those below and extend in her last two novels to Bath.
JANE AUSTEN IN HER TIME
- 1770. Oliver Goldsmith's poem The Deserted Village. Practice of leaving visiting cards begins. William Wordsworth b. The "Boston Massacre": Boston citizens and British troops clash, resulting in the deaths of five colonists. Dauphin of France (future Louis XVI) marries Marie Antoinette. Ludwig von Beethoven b.
- 1771. Bath's first Assembly Room opened. (Sir) Walter Scott b. Henry Austen born, the fourth son, following the births of James, George (boarded out with an unspecified mental dysfunction), Edward (adopted at nine by a wealthy couple, a condition being that he change his name to Knight). The Rev. George Austen, Jane's father, was born in 1731 and died in 1805; her mother, Cassandra Leigh, was born in 1739 and died in 1827). Encyclopedia Britannica, first edition. The electrical basis for nerve impulses discovered by Luigi Galvani (connected obliquely with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein). Richard Arkwright invents and establishes England's first spinning mill.
- 1772. Samuel Taylor Coleridge b. Somerset case: Judge Murray rules that a slave is free upon arrival in England.
- 1773. Cassandra Austen b. First cast-iron bridge begun, Coalbrookdale, England.
- 1774. Francis "Frank" Austen b. Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Formalization of rules for cricket.
- 1775. Jane Austen b. Dec. 16 at Steventon Rectory, Hampshire. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Rivals.
- 1776. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (-1788). Declaration of Independence.
- 1777. Sheridan, The School for Scandal.
- 1778. Fanny Burney's Evelina, popular novel of manners that influences Austen.
- 1779. Charles Austen b. Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets (-1781). R. B. Sheridan, The Critic. Posthumous publication of David Hume's Dialogues of Natural Religion. The annual Derby at Epsom Downs inaugurated.
- 1780. Gordon Riots, a week of rioting and mayhem against a Parliamentary bill granting some civil liberties to Catholics; bill rescinded. Riots extended to the burning of houses of suspected atheists and Unitarians, such as that of the great chemist Joseph Priestley, who fled to the U.S. Charles Dickens' novel Barnaby Rudge includes the riots. The British Gazette and The Sunday Monitor, England's first Sunday newspapers, begin publishing in London.
- 1781. J-J Rousseau, Confessions. William Herschel, a German emigre musician living in Bath with his sister Caroline, discovers the seventh planet, Uranus, a vastly distant planet, and in doing so doubles the size of the solar system. This is the first addition to the solar system in a millennium and restores astronomy's prominence among the sciences. Herschel receives the Copley Medal for outstanding work in any field of science for that year.
- 1782. James Watt, rotary steam engine. William Cowper, Poems. Fanny Burney, Cecilia.
- 1783. Cassandra and Jane are sent to boarding school in Southampton, but, owing to an epidemic fever that kills some children, are taken home. Great Britain recognizes American independence. William Pitt (Pitt the Younger) ministry (-1801). George Crabbe, The Village. William Herschel, Motion of the Solar System in Space. Charles Simeon's small meetings in his student rooms at Cambridge lead to evangelical fervor within the university. John Broadwood develops and patents pedals for this pianoforté. Invention enabling the printing of colors on calico.
- 1784. Pitt's India Act places the East India Co. under the government's control. John Wesley’s Deed of Declaration ordained preachers for Scotland, England and America, with authority to administer the sacraments, challenge to the Church of England and indication of a final secession. The Prince Regent authorizes the construction of the Pavilion at Brighton. Thomas Rowlandson's and James Gillray’s satirical cartoons capture the public with their wit and acid irreverence.
- 1785. First crossing of the English Channel by balloon.
- 1786. Robert Burns, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect.
- 1787. Beginning of impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, the first Governor-General of India, on charges of corruption and high treason. He may have been the lover of Philadelphia Hancock, neé Austen, Jane's aunt, and may have fathered Eliza de Feuillide, whose first husband was guillotined and whose second was Jane's brother Henry. English abolitionists found colony for freed slaves in Sierra Leone.
- 1788. Fourteen-year old Francis Austen leaves the Naval School at Portsmouth and ships aboard a frigate bound for the East Indies, not to see his family for five years. George III's first attack of mental illness results in the Prince Regent's demand to Parliament that he be made king. George Gordon, future Lord Byron b. Hannah Moore, English bluestocking and religious reformer, Thoughts on the Importance of the Manners of the Great to the General Society. The Times, London. James Hutton, New Theory of the Earth. Bread riots in France, and Parlement de Paris presents grievances to Louis XVI.
- 1789. Austen writes her first novel, Love and Freindship [sic]; A History of England (a parody), and some short stories (-91). Storming of Bastille Prison, the beginning of the French Revolution; feudalism abolished; Declaration of Rights of Man; George III recovers. William Blake's Songs of Innocence; Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation; H.M.S. Bounty's mutineers land on Pitcairn I.
- 1790. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.
- 1791. September Massacres in Paris; slaves revolt in French Santo Domingo. James Boswell, Life of Johnson. Thomas Paine's The Rights of Man (Part I). George Morland's oil painting Inside of a Stable. Joseph Haydn's Surprise Symphony; the waltz, a contagion spreading from Vienna, arrives in England. William Bartram's Travels in the American South.
- 1792. Revolutionary Commune, Paris; French royal family imprisoned; proclamation of French Republic; Revolutionary calendar; Jacobins under Danton defeat Girondins for supreme control; France declares war on Austria, Prussia, and Sardinia. Percy Bysshe Shelley b. Paine's Rights of Man, Part II. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Gas first used in England for street lumination.
- 1793. Austen writes Lady Susan and Elinor and Marianne, originally an epistolary novel (-96), revised as Sense and Sensibility. Execution of Louis XVI; Reign of Terror begins; Queen Marie Antoinette executed; England declares war on France; "The Feast of Reason," the Jacobin replacement of the saints’ days, designed by the French painter, J-L David. John Clare, poet, b. William Godwin's Enquiry concerning Political Justice. Establishment of England’s Board of Agriculture.
- 1794. William Blake, Songs of Experience. Danton and Desmoulins guillotined; "Feast of the Supreme Being"; Commune dissolved; Robespierre, his brother, and St. Just guillotined; slavery abolished in French colonies. Erasmus Darwin (Charles's grandfather) publishes Zoönomia, or the Laws of Organic Life; Paine, The Age of Reason; Pitt ministry, terrified of home-grown sedition, suspends until 1804 Habeas Corpus Act and embarks on numerous treason trials.
- 1795. Warren Hastings acquitted of high treason. John Keats b. Haydn composes the last of the twelve "London" symphonies. Speenhamland poor relief: all wages up to a certain point supplemented by poor relief paid for by taxes on local landholders. The Monk: a Romance, sensationalist Gothic novel by Matthew "Monk" Lewis.
- 1796. Writes First Impressions (-97); revised as Pride and Prejudice. Fanny Burney, Camilla. English doctor Edw. Jenner develops smallpox vaccination.
- 1797. British sailors on two warships mutiny at Spithead. Ann Radcliffe, The Italian, a Gothic novel. Thomas Bewick, History of British Birds.
- 1798. Writes Susan (-99), an early version of Northanger Abbey. Wordsworth and Coleridge publish Lyrical Ballads, which include "Lines...Tintern Abbey" and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population; Nelson destroys French fleet in Abukir Bay while Napoleon takes control of Egypt and Malta. British govt. imposes 10% war tax on incomes over £200. Napoleon appointed to plan invasion of England. J. M. W. Turner begins painting in oils, one of his most darkly dramatic early paintings being Dolbadern Castle (-1800).
- 1799. Napoleon challenges and defeats the Directory. Discovery of Rosetta stone in Egypt, the key to the decipherment of hieroglyphics. Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior of Africa. Beethoven symphony 1.
- 1800. Napoleon First Consul. Maria Edgworth's gothic novel Castle Rackrent. Founding of Royal College of Surgeons, London. Alessandro Volta invents battery that produces electricity.
- 1801. The Rev. George Austen retires and moves from Steventon Rectory to Bath with his wife and two daughters. Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Two-volume Lyrical Ballads. John Debrett, Peerage.
- 1802. Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. The Rosetta Stone, originally discovered by a French soldier, is transported to and on view at the British Museum, though its Egyptian hieroglyphics and cartouches will not be understood until 1822.
- 1803. Austen sells Susan for £10 but it is stillborn, for though advertised it remains unpublished. Joseph Lancaster, Improvements in Education as It Respects the Industrious Classes. Beethoven, Piano Concerto 3, performed by Beethoven on a piano that had a keyboard extended beyond the standard five-octave range.
- 1804. Writes The Watsons. Napoleon crowned emperor in the presence of Pope Pius VII. Code Napoleon. After decades of extraordinary accomplishments in the medium, the founding of the English Water Colour Society. Beethoven, Symphony 3, renamed the Eroica after Beethoven retracts dedication to Napoleon.
- 1805. The Rev. George Austen dies in Bath. Suddenly without much money, the three Austen women are forced to look for a cheaper place to live and settle in Southampton. Scott, The Lay of the Last Minstrel. Wordsworth 2-volume collection of poems.
- 1806. British take Cape of Good Hope and blockade France; France retaliates with Continental blockade of all British shipping.
- 1807. England abolishes slave trade on British ships. Thomas Moore, Irish Melodies, music by John Stevenson. Some London streets lighted by gas. Charles and Mary Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare.
- 1808. France invades Spain. Henry Crabb Robinson becomes first war correspondent and reports for The Times of London on the Peninsular Campaign. Robert Southey under the pseudonym Don M. A. Espriella publishes Letters From England. Goya, The Third of May.
- 1809. Following four years of moving from place to place, the three Austen women settle in Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, owned by Edw. Knight (formerly Austen).
- 1810. Jane Austen recovers from what appears to be a protracted depression following the move from Steventon Rectory and returns to writing, beginning with a revision of Elinor and Marianne into Sense and Sensibility, followed by a revision of First Impressions into Pride and Prejudice. Scott, The Lady of the Lake. Durham miners' strike.
- 1811. Begins an entirely new novel, Mansfield Park, and publishes Sense and Sensibility. This novel, like the others to come during her lifetime, was published anonymously, "By a Lady." George III formally acknowledged insane, and the Prince, the future George IV, is declared Prince Regent, which begins the Regency (-20, when George III dies). John Nash, the designer of the Royal Crescent in Bath and of part of the Brighton Pavilion, designs Regent Street, London.
- 1812. Cantos I and II of Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. First of the Hampden clubs formed to extend the voting "franchise" (the right to vote in Parliamentary elections) in Great Britain, which was determined by how much one pays in annual rates (taxes). Charles Dickens b. Humphrey Davy, Elements of Chemical Philosophy. Elgin Marbles transported to England and in 1816 installed in the British Museum.
- 1813. Pride and Prejudice published. Shelley, Queen Mab. France loses a series of major battles.
- 1814. Mansfield Park published; writes Emma (-15). Byron, The Corsair; Scott, Waverley (the first of the Waverley novels); Wordsworth, The Excursion. Napoleon banished to Elba, and Louis XVIII assumes throne. Stephenson, first steam locomotive developed to serve a colliery.
- 1815. Writes Persuasion. Napoleon leaves Elba, Louis XVIII flees; Wellington and Blücher meet and join to defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Wordsworth, Poems, Collected Edition; Byron, Hebrew Melodies; Scott, Guy Mannering; Nash's "Oriental" re-design of Brighton Pavilion. Economic depression descends upon Britain with high unemployment and steep bread prices.
- 1816. Emma published. Recovers Susan, which is reworked into Northanger Abbey. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria. Founding of Blackwood's Magazine in Edinburgh, and, Tory in outlook, is associated with Scott. William Cobbett begins publishing the Political Register, whose cheap price guarantees broad circulation by Cobbett’s having found a loophole to avoid the stamp duty on newspapers.
- 1817. Begins Sanditon; Jane Austen dies on July 18, age 41, in Winchester, where she'd gone for medical treatment of what was not known until 1849 as Addison's disease, named for the British doctor who diagnosed it. Byron, Manfred. John Constable, Flatford Mill. Riots in Derbyshire.
The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen (5 vols.), ed. R. W. Chapman.
Jane Austen: Selected Letters. ed. R. W. Chapman.
Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin.
Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, Improved by Todd, Abridged for the Use of Schools (1836).
Altick, Richard. The English Common Reader.
Beales, Derek. From Castlereagh to Gladstone: 1815-1885.
Becker, Carl. The Heavenly City of Eighteenth-Century Philosophy.
Briggs, Asa. The Age of Improvement: 1783-1867.
_________. Social History of England.
Brown, Julia Prewitt. A Reader’s Guide to the Nineteenth-Century Novel.
Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas.
Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment (2 vols.).
Halévy, Elie. History of the English People: England in 1815.
__________. History of the English People: The Liberal Awakening: 1815-1830.
Hardy, Barbara. A Reading of Jane Austen.
Humphreys, A. R. The Augustan World: Society, Thought, Letters in Eighteenth-Century England.
Jarrett, Derek. England in the Age of Hogarth.
Kelly, Gary. English Fiction of the Romantic Period.
Marcus, Steven. Introduction to Emma.
Loesser, Arthur. Men, Women, and Pianos: A Social History.
Mingay, G. E. English Landed Society in the Eighteenth Century.
Owen, John B. The Eighteenth Century: 1714-1815.
Perkin, Harold, Origins of Modern English Society.
Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew.
Porter, Roy. English Society in the 18th Century.
Sambrook, James. The Eighteenth Century.
Stephen, Leslie. English Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century.
Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Abridged edition.
Thomas, Keith. Man and the Natural World: A History of the Modern Sensibility.
Thompson, F.M.L. English Landed Society in the Nineteenth Century.
Trevelyan, G. M. English Social History.
Trilling, Lionel. "Emma and the Legend of Jane Austen."
Turner, Thomas. The Diary of a Georgian Shopkeeper.
Vickery, Amanda. Behind Closed Doors.
_____________. The Gentleman's Daughter.
Webb, R. K. Modern England: From the 18th Century to the Present.
Willey, Basil. The Eighteenth-Century Background.
Woodforde, James. The Diary of a Country Parson, 1758-1802.
Some Useful Links:
www.gutenberg.org To whom all readers owe a large debt. Support them with volunteer work or money.
www.victorianweb.org Illuminating, responsible scholarship on a range of subjects.
www.jasna.org. Jane Austen Society of North America
www.janeaustensoci.freeuk.com Jane Austen Society, UK
www.janeausten.org Books, fashions, movies, etc.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1811)
The “old Gentleman,” uncle to Henry Dashwood. The old Gentleman’s will occasions the distress for his nephew and his family, upon which the novel begins.
Mr. Henry Dashwood, who dies at the opening. Father of John Dashwood by a first marriage, and Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret by a second.
Mrs. Henry Dashwood, mother of Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret.
John Dashwood, a man in his 20s (the grand-nephew of the old Gentleman), his wife, Fanny (daughter of Mrs. Ferrars), and their toddler son, Harry.
Mrs. Ferrars, widow. Mother of Edward (eldest), Robert, and Fanny.
Mrs. Jennings, widow, mother of Mary (Lady Middleton) and Charlotte (Mrs. Thomas Palmer).
Sir John and Lady Middleton and their young children John, William, and Annamaria.
Anne “Nancy” Steele and Lucy Steele, women in their 20s who are distantly related to Mrs. Jennings.
Willoughby, a young gentleman, nephew of the wealthy Mrs. Smith, and owner of Allenham.
Sir John and Lady Middleton and their children.
Colonel Brandon, a second son. His brother married and divorced Eliza Williams. Their child, Eliza Williams, in turn had a daughter, Eliza Williams (last name is inferred).
Miss Sophia Grey, a wealthy young heiress.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1813)
Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, the parents of Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Lydia, and Catherine or Kitty. They live at their manor, Longbourn, in Hertforshire, outside the small market town of Meryton.
Mrs. Bennet’s siblings are Mrs. Philips and Mrs. Gardiner, both married. The Rev. William Collins is a cousin to Mr. Bennet, is rector of Hunsford, Kent, a parish within Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate.
Fitzwilliam Darcy and his sister, Georgiana, are the children of Mr. Darcy and Lady Anne (both deceased). Lady Anne was the daughter of an earl, Fitzwilliam, it appears.
He fathered three children, Fitzwilliam, the present earl, who has two sons, the younger being Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s friend and cousin; the elder Darcy; and Lady Catherine, who marries Sir Lewis de Bourgh and has one child, Anne.
Charles Bingley, a friend of Fitzwilliam Darcy. He has two sisters, Caroline Bingley and Louisa, now Hurst.
Darcy is the twenty-eight-year-old owner of Pemberley and its very extensive lands in Derbyshire, the possessor of £10,000/year, and also a house in London.
Lieutenant George Wickham, son of the steward to the elder Mr. Darcy.
Colonel Forster, commander of a militia regiment billeted in Meryton.
Sir William Lucas, Lucas Lodge, the parent of among other children the twenty-seven-year old Charlotte. He was once mayor of Meryton.
MANSFIELD PARK (1814)
Sir Thomas Bertram, Baronet., former M.P., and Lady Bertram (formerly Miss Maria Ward), the parents of Thomas, Edmund, Maria, and Julia.
Miss Ward (the second daughter of the three Ward daughters, first name unknown) marries the Rev. Norris. They have no children.
Frances Ward, the youngest daughter, marries Lieutenant Price. They have ten children, though only William, Fanny, and Susan figure importantly in the novel.
James Rushworth, a neighboring landowner of the large estate, Sotherton.
Mrs. Rushworth, his mother.
Admiral Crawford, London, the widowed uncle of Henry Crawford and Mary Crawford.
Henry Crawford, also landed gentry, and his sister, Mary.
The Rev. Grant, D.D.; his wife is the half-sister through their mother of Henry and Mary Crawford.
The Hon. John Yates, cadet son of a lord.
Mr. Henry Woodhouse, father to Isabella and Emma.
Isabella has married John Knightley, the younger son, and has five children, Henry, John, Bella, George, and Emma.
Mr. George Knightley, the older son.
Anne Taylor, Emma’s governess and companion, who marries Mr. Weston, formerly Captain.
Mr. Weston, a widower, had married Miss Churchill. They had a son, Frank.
Frank (Weston) Churchill was raised by his uncle, his deceased mother’s brother, and his aunt.
Mrs. Bates, the widow of a former vicar of Highbury, is the mother of Hetty (Miss Bates) and Jane, who married Lieutenant Fairfax. Both Jane and Lieut. Fairfax are dead.
Jane Fairfax is their daughter and the niece of Miss Bates and granddaughter of Mrs. Bates. An orphan, she has been raised by Colonel and Mrs. Campbell. Their daughter, Miss Campbell, has recently married Mr. Dixon.
The Rev. Elton, now vicar of Highbury.
Harriet Smith, a “natural” daughter whose father is unknown.
Mrs. Goddard, the headmistress of a fine local school for girls.
The Martins, a prosperous farming family consisting of a mother, a son, and two daughters.
Augusta Hawkins, sister of Selina Hawkins, now Suckling.
NORTHANGER ABBEY (1818)
Catherine Morland, 17, one of the Rev. and Mrs. Morland’s ten children.
James Morland, an Oxford student and her brother.
Mr. and Mrs. Allen. A wealthy, childless couple who take Catherine to Bath.
Mrs. Thorpe, widow, mother of John Thorpe, a college friend of James Morland, and Isabella Thorpe, a young woman slightly older than Catherine.
The Rev. Henry Tilney, the younger brother of Captain Frederick Tilney.
Eleanor Tilney, their sister.
General Tilney, a widower and father of Frederick, Henry, and Eleanor and owner of Northanger Abbey estate.
Sir Walter Eliot, Baronet, widower and father of Elizabeth, Anne, and Mary.
William Walter Elliot is the cousin of Sir Walter.
Mary is the wife of Charles Musgrove, and the mother of small boys, Charles and Walter.
Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove (the elder) have among their children Charles (husband of Mary), Henrietta, and Louisa, and a son, Richard, deceased.
The Rev. Charles Hayter, whose mother and Mrs. Musgrove are sisters.
Admiral Croft and his wife, Sophia.
Captain Wentworth is the brother of Sophia Croft and of the Rev. Edward Wentworth.
Captain Benwick, a widower, was married to Fanny Harville, Captain Harville’s sister.
Lady Russell, a particular friend of Sir Walter’s wife and now of Anne.
Mrs. Clay, a single woman in her 30s who appears to have had an unhappy marriage.
Mrs. Smith, a widow, now ailing, and a friend of Anne Elliot from school.
Lady Dalyrimple, a distant relation of Sir Walter Elliot.