Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!
Jane Austen was born December 16, 1775, 248 years ago today. Over the 41 years of her life, she wrote several influential novels about English society and the lives of women in her time. These books helped shape the form of the modern English novel, telling stories about normal people in ordinary circumstances. Her most well-known works include Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice.
One force that seems to have influenced Austen’s writing was her close relationship with her family, who enjoyed reading together and supported her throughout her life, helping her publish writing and providing her with connections that would turn into inspiration for her stories. In her girlhood, the family often put on plays and Austen would write poems, parodies, and sketches.
This youthful writing would eventually turn into her full-length work, likely inspired by Austen’s experience with the landed gentry, love and courtship, and her later financial instability after the death of her father. Despite the eventual support of her brothers (one of whom was adopted by the wealthy Knight family as their heir), Austen, her mother, and her sister were deeply aware of the fact that women depended on marriage for stability. According to Katherine Toran’s article The Economics of Jane Austen’s World, in her entire career, Austen made 684 euro, which with inflation is about $67,456.
Austen’s profession as an author wouldn’t have been celebrated in her society; in fact, her novels were originally published anonymously, and when she was young, she was embarrassed to have people see her writing. One well-known tale is that Austen refused to have the creaky hinge fixed in the room she wrote in, so she could hear people coming in and put her writing away.
Today, tens of millions of copies of Austen’s books have been published, and she’s been translated into more than forty languages. Her house in Hampshire has been turned into a museum, and there’s a Jane Austen Society of North America, which has 81 regional groups, and they both host events for her birthday each year.
Consider checking out an event or picking up some Jane Austen to read today!
References and additional reading:
Kristen Toran’s The Economics of Jane Austen’s World can be found here.
Adam Frost, Jim Kynvin and Amy Wat’s infographic, Jane Austen’s facts and figures – in charts is here.