“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
If you love Jane Austen, you probably have this sentence memorized. Her name is one of the most widely known, and even those who have never read any of her six novels recognize it. The first I ever heard of Jane Austen was when I was sixteen and watched Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. I fell in love with the plot of the movie. It made me want to be a screenwriter, and so began my love of writing. I know this is somewhat absurd considering it is a movie based on a classic novel, but the plot of the movie is almost a mirror of the novel. When I began studying English Literature in college, I took a class on English Literature from the 1700’s to present, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, of course, was studied. I read Emma while studying at the University of Leicester in England, where I took a class on Romantics and Victorians. I loved Emma. To this day, it is my favorite Jane Austen novel, which is curious because many people prefer Pride and Prejudice.
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in Hampshire, England, to parents Reverend George Austen and Cassandra Austen. She was the seventh of eight children with just one sister born two years before her. She wrote six novels, the first being Sense and Sensibility in 1811, which was followed by Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Persuasion (1817), and Northanger Abbey (1817). Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published after her death.
At the age of eight, Jane and her sister, Cassandra, were sent to boarding school where they were taught languages, music, and dancing, which was commonly taught to young girls during that time period. Jane’s father being a reverend, there was a library in their home that she used to educate herself. Her father supported her creative writing by supplying her with paper and writing tools. During this time period, people had to entertain themselves somehow, and, as in Mansfield Park, Jane and her siblings would write and perform their own plays. As most writers do, Jane started writing in notebooks at a young age, using her life experiences and emotions to fill the pages.
Jane fell in love once: she met a man named Tom Lefroy when she was twenty. He was the nephew of a neighbor, and he was studying to be a barrister. Jane wrote letters to her sister, speaking of their relationship and how she felt for him. Unfortunately, Jane and Tom never married because neither families had the funds to contribute to their marriage. The families made efforts to keep them apart, and once it was decided they would not marry, Jane never saw Tom–the love of her life–again. (I’m sad while writing this. My heart breaks thinking of the pain that one of my favorite women went through knowing she was the love of the love of her life, yet they could not be together for financial reasons). Although she did not get to marry Mr. Lefroy, Jane was proposed to by Harris Bigg-Wither, a family friend who was set to inherit a large sum of money, providing Jane with a financially stable marriage her parents would be happy with. She accepted his proposal, but, like Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, she spends the night thinking about it, realizing she would be unhappy marrying someone she wasn’t in love with, so she revoked the engagement the very next day.
In her early forties, Jane’s health became an issue, yet she would not confront it. She kept writing until she could no longer write; when she was 42, she became bedridden, ultimately dying on July 18, 1817 from, perhaps, Addison’s Disease or Hodgkins Lymphoma.
If you want to read more about this timeless author, click here. Also, check out some Jane Austen-inspired movies like Becoming Jane, Lost in Austen, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility. There is also a television version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as the dreamboat, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.