Sunday, 30 May 2010

Jane Austen

NAME Jane Austen

WHAT FAMOUS FOR British novelist.

BIRTH Baby Jane was born 6 December 1775 at Steventon rectory in Hampshire and publicly christened on 5 April 1776

FAMILY BACKGROUND The seventh of eight children, Jane had six brothers and one older sister, Cassandra, to whom she was very close. One of her brothers, George, who'd been subject to fits, was put away. Two others Frank and Charles went to sea, eventually becoming admirals. (She got a lot of her material for her novels on the upper middle classes from them). A couple of others, Henry and James, became clergymen, and Edward was adopted by his fourth cousin, Thomas Knight, inheriting Knight's estate and taking his name in 1812.
Jane's father, Rev George Austen (1731-1805), was an educated gentlemanly parson of moderate means, who was the vicar at Steventon for over 40 years. Previously he'd taught for a time at Tonbridge Public School. Her mother was Cassandra (1739-1827). Her parents left 101 grandchildren when they died.
In 1801 the family moved to Bath; after the death of her father in 1805, Jane, her sister and her mother lived with Frank and his family for several years until they moved in 1809 to Chawton. Here her wealthy brother Edward had an estate with a cottage, which he turned over to his mother and sisters. (Their house today is open to the public).

CHILDHOOD Jane was keen on writing plays as a child, then performing them. In the summer she took part in private theatricals in a barn near the family home. She also read widely and liked practising piano pieces.

EDUCATION In 1783 Jane went to Southampton to be taught by a relative, Mrs. Cawley, but was brought home due to a local outbreak of disease. Two years later she attended the Abbey Boarding School in Reading, reportedly wanting to follow her sister Cassandra. She learnt French and Italian, could sing and draw well and her embroidery was “especially great in satin-stitch.”(1)
She was also educated at home by her father along with several other children who boarded with them. There she learned how to play the piano, draw and write creatively. Her father had a library of 500 books, which Jane utilised and he encouraged her reading and writing. Jane was modest about her education, saying: “I think I may boast myself to be, with all possible vanity, the most unlearned and uninformed female who ever dared to be an authoress.”

CAREER RECORD By the age of 15 Jane was writing plays and sketches for the amusement of her family, and at 21 she was writing novels. But because her stories were about the daily lives of ordinary people for many years they went unpublished. Two failed attempts in 1790 were titled, Burlesque and Love and Friends. The original Pride and Prejudice was turned down a few years later.

APPEARANCE No plain Jane, she wasn't a beauty but certainly attractive, though her sister Cassandra was considered prettier. A contemporary described her as a “clear brunette with a rich colour, hazel eyes, fine features & curling brown hair." (2)

FASHION Living a restricted village life, Jane would have worn dowdy provincial clothes. Her families relative lack of finances would have meant she found it constantly hard work to dress respectively. Jane wrote in a letter of October 27 1798: “Next week I shall begin my operations on my hat, on which you know my principal hopes of happiness depend.”

CHARACTER Rational, intelligent, a family loving home bird, Jane was sensitive, but tough and unsentimental. One pictures her as a stickler for manners, tidy minded, genteel. However her letters to her sister, Cassandra reveal a surprising sharpness and even dare I say it, bitchiness.

SENSE OF HUMOUR Jane wrote with wit and perception of moral dilemmas with more irony than a Morphy Richards iron factory. At times in her correspondence she was waspish. After a November ball, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, "I was as civil to them as their bad breath would allow me. She deplored loud laughter, believing that a fine-tuned control of the vocal cords was a sure sign of a gentleman.

RELATIONSHIPS Jane was single and on the shelf all her life but had a reputation of hard to get. However her writing reveals an understanding about love and she must have experienced amour to be able to portray it so accurately.
Jane had several suitors, one of whom she accepted it only to withdraw it the next morning. One of the marriage proposals she turned down was to a chap called Harris Bigg-Wither, who though prosperous was “big and awkward”. In a letter to Cassandra she wrote- "Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection."
When on holiday at Lyme with her family she met a young man with whom she developed a close relationship. It ultimately ended in tragedy as her fella died. It is believed by many astute Austen fans that her novel, Persuasion was inspired by this incident.
Jane also enjoyed a brief romance with a young Irish barrister, Thomas Lefroy. They met when she was 20 and on his return to Ireland he married the sister of a school friend and named his first daughter Jane.
Jane had a reputation for keeping young children entertained and was fond of her nephew and nieces. “I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.” Letter 1798

MONEY AND FAME Jane's father was by no means of wealthy means. When he died in 1805 his widow and Jane and Cassandra had no income between them and had to move to smaller quarters. Her five brothers subsequently paid £50 a year each to their mother.
All of Jane's' novels were published anonymously. In 1803 Northanger Abbey was sold to the publishers Crosby & Sons for £10 but they did not publish it. By her late 30s Jane began to earn money from her writing. She sold Pride and Prejudice for £110 having asked for £150. The first edition of Sense & Sensibility turned a profit of £140 for her. She received a total of £700 for the four novels published in her lifetime, a fair amount of money in those days but not enough to demonstrate she'd been noticed in the literary world.
Her novels were fairly well received when they were published, with Sir Walter Scott in particular praising her work. The Prince Regent was such a fan of Austen's work that he asked her to dedicate her next book to him, which she did. Jane only really became well known after JE Austin Leigh's memoir in 1870 of her after which the Jane Austen cult began to develop.
Her total assets were valued at £800 at her death and in her will she left everything to Cassandra. “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” Jane Austen The You Tube clip below is a virtual movie of Jane Austen reading her letter to the librarian to the Prince Regent James Stanier Clarke, rejecting an invitation to write (following a plot outline he proposed) The Magnificent Adventures and Intriguing Romances of the House of Saxe Coburg.

FOOD AND DRINK Typically for this time, Jane's parson father who was of moderate means, farmed a small holding where he kept cows, pigs and sheep and grew wheat for making bread. Her mother kept fowl and looked after the orchards, herbs and vegetables. She taught her daughters how make butter, cheese, jams and pickles as well as how to cure bacon and hams.
The sweet toothed writer wrote in a letter "Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness." She also penned, “You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge cake is to me”.
In 1815 Jane included the first literary mention of soft boiled eggs in her book Emma when the heroine’s father, Mr Woodhouse, announced that “an egg boiled soft is not unwholesome”. (3)
In 1799 Jane's wealthy young brother Edward came to stay with her parents at Steventon. Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra before his visit: “The coffee mill will be wanted every day while Edward is at Steventon, as he always drinks coffee for breakfast.” Jane made Edward’s drink by boiling ground coffee in water.

MUSIC Jane was accomplished at music and she played the piano to a good standard. Her letters to Cassandra were full of news on music trends. She would get up early in the morning to practice her piano playing so as not to disturb the rest of her family and liked piano pieces such as "I'm Jolly Dick the Lamplighter" and "The Tippling Philosophers".
Jane collected sheet music favouring French revolution songs and trendy Scottish dances. She bought printed songs after hearing them performed at London shows and copied out her own version of music she borrowed from libraries adding to her family's eight volume collection of scores.

LITERATURE Jane's favorite novel was Samuel Richardson's Charles Grand. She also enjoyed the books of Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne and Fanny Burney plus Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. Her favorite poet was Crabbe and she also was fond of William Cowper’s poetry.
A keen letter writer, most of Jane's surviving letters are to her sister Cassandra. She started writing when young and Love & Friendship was written when she was only 14 years old. At first she wrote in secret covering her papers whenever the creaking door of her room warned her someone was coming.
Her books had one basic plot-Whom should a young woman marry. Miss Austen herself described her raw material as "three or four families in a country village." She frequently started sentences with the words "but" or "and," which is considered ungrammatical. She said in a letter dated 16th December 1816, “The little bit two inches wide of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour.” Her published novels are as follows:
1811 Sense and Sensibility The first draft was in letter form, well, what do you expect Roman numerals? It was originally titled Elinor and Marianne , then rewritten in 1797-8 as Sense and Sensibility. Over the next few years Jane constantly revised it. The was not published for 16 years until she had found the courage to declare herself a novelist. It made a slight profit.
1813 Pride and Prejudice About five husband hunting sisters and love and money. One of the sisters, Elizabeth Bennett is Jane Austen's favorite heroine. The book was originally titled First Impressions . It was rejected by publisher in 1797, so she put it aside and wrote others.
1814 Mansfield Park Godmersham Park, near Ashford in Kent where Jane's brother Edward lived and she frequently stayed, was used as the model for the novel. It was written straight off with no previous drafts.
1815 Emma Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, "I am going to take a heroine whom no-one but myself will much like."
1817 Persuasion This is the actress and politician Glenda Jackson's favorite book. Jane finished this whilst seriously ill, propped up on two chairs. She published it posthumously.
1818 Northanger Park The parody of Gothic novels was written in 1803, sold to publishers for £10 who neglected it then reclaimed it in 1816. It was not published until after Jane's death.
All six novels have been successfully adapted for film and television.
Jane also wrote verse and an adolescent historical lampoon, The History of England.
Sir Walter Scott, and the poets Coleridge & Southey were all contemporary admirers of her work. Jane once wrote to her sister "Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb." Duty to family came first.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Jane was accomplished in games of skill, drawing and needlework. She was always ready to entertain her numerous nephews and nieces with charades, dancing and other games.
Jane read frequently and later came to enjoy social events such as parties, dances and balls. She disliked the busy life of towns but preferred the country life where she took to long country walks. The authoress loved walking and was "graceful and finished" in her movements.
Jane mentioned Baseball in Northanger Abbey.. Her heroine "prefers cricket, baseball to books." This was the first recorded use of the word "baseball" in English. Was she an Arsenal supporter? Well Jane did write in one of her letters, "Happy are those who can remain at Highbury"

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Apart from her father, two of Jane's brothers and four of her cousins were all clergymen. Jane herself was a little sympathetic to the evangelical movement but was put off by some of the more narrow-minded evangelicals, whose seriousness and inability to understand human nature disgusted her. She once wrote in a letter that she has " a great respect for Sweden because it had been so zealous for Protestantism."

SCANDAL Refined members of the fairer sex rarely entered the masculine world of writing in Jane's days. Because of this she was compelled by the feelings of her family to cover up her manuscripts with a large piece of muslin work kept on the table for that purpose whenever visitors of a certain rank came in. At Chawton there was a creaking door, which she requested not to be fixed since it gave her warning of any approaching visitors so she could hide her manuscript.
Jane insisted that her novels be published anonymously as she felt a female author wouldn’t be taken seriously. All of her' novels were published anonymously- she advertised her books as by "a lady".
Jane had her critics, Charlotte Bronte felt her works lacked passion. The critic A.A. Gill wrote: "Jane Austen is a sour, trite, shallow little shrew whose books are pernicious moralising fantasies that cruelly convince impressionable, plain, brittle, martyrish girls that they don't need to improve their manners, fix their ugly faces and learn to flirt like real ladies." (4)

MILITARY RECORD Two of Janey's brothers were high up in the Navy. In a letter referring to the Peninsular War (17/11/1799), before they joined, she wrote “How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!”

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Early in 1816, Jane began to feel unwell. She ignored her illness at first and continued to work and to participate in the usual round of family activities. By the middle of that year, her decline was unmistakable to Jane and to her family. Her illness, which is thought to be Addison's Disease, disfigured her and altered the colouring of her face, making a mixture of black and white. Jane continued to work in spite of her illness and made light of her condition to others, describing it as "Bile" and rheumatism, but as her disease progressed she experienced increasing difficulty walking or finding the energy for other activities.
By mid-April in 1817, she was confined to bed with fevers and frequent backache. The following month she moved to Winchester so she could be closer to her doctor, Mr Lyford. Jane was nursed by Cassandra and suffered the pain & physical decline with great courage & cheerfulness. "Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be." Emma

HOMES The Steventon Parsonage where Jane was born and the Austen family lived until 1800 was pulled down in the early 19th century. When her mother and father told their daughter they were moving to Bath, Jane, who hated the city fainted. 1800 Jane's father retired and the family uproot to Bath.
1806 After her father died suddenly the previous year, Jane, Cassandra, and their mother were left in a precarious financial situation. For the next four years, the family's living arrangements reflected their financial insecurity. They lived part of the time in rented quarters in Bath and then, beginning in 1806, in Southampton, where they shared a house with Frank Austen and his new wife 1809-17 Jane moved to a cottage of Elizabethan origin at Chawton, near Alton, Hampshire, on the property of her brother Mr Knight. Its a long two storey building which now partly serves as a museum with many of her personal belongings. she wrote in the busy family parlour Persuasion, Mansfield Park and Emma. She based many of her characters on local Chawton folk.
1817 Jane moved from Chawton to 8 College Street, Winchester so she could be closer to her doctor.

TRAVEL Jane was fond of Dawlish in Devon and Lyme Regis in Dorset. When in Bath she had Dorset or Devon seaside holidays every summer. Her holidays at Lyme Regis left their imprint on Persuasion. Very short of money herself, Jane was forever cadging lifts off others. Jane often stayed at Godmersham Park with one of her brothers, Edward, who'd married a local girl there.
No Austen rover, she would not have been interested in a Mediterranean holiday, as she didn't like the heat. For instance in 1796 she wrote to Cassandra "What dreadful hot weather we have. It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance."

DEATH The March of 1817 saw Jane's health decline rapidly and she was forced to abandon her current work of Sanditon, after completing twelve chapters. It is thought she had Addison’s disease. On April 27th she wrote out her will and then on May 24th moved with Cassandra to Winchester, to be near her physician. It was in Winchester where she died, in the arms of her sister, on Friday, the 18th of July 1817, at the age of only 41. Her last words were, "I want nothing but death."
She was buried the 24th of July at Winchester Cathedral near the font. She was the first of the eight Austen children to die. The one page of Jane's will left all her possession to her sister Cassandra and £50 to her brother Henry. The will was proved in London on 10 September 1817, at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Jane having died in July. Her total assets were valued at £800.
When Jane died she was practically unknown in the literary world and her tombstone doesn't even mention she was a writer.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA The first film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel was the 1940 MGM production of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Aldous Huxley, of Brave New World fame, was one of the scriptwriters. Starting with Emma Thompson's film of Sense and Sensibility and the BBC's TV mini-series Pride and Prejudice with that scene of a fully-dressed Darcy emerging from a swim in a lake, a great wave of Austen adaptations began to appear around 1995.
The 2007 film Becoming Jane was inspired by the early life of Austen (portrayed by Anne Hathaway), and her posited relationship with Thomas Lefroy (played by BAFTA-winning Scottish actor James McAvoy).

ACHIEVEMENTS Jane was a literary miniaturist with a gift of irony and ironing out their characters through their conversations. A pioneer of the modern novel and the first great female novelist, she is still widely read today. In fact today more people read her novels than any other classic novelist.
Sir Walter Scott was a fan. He said of her: "That exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting.", even though he did criticise her for the narrowness of her themes. Scott wrote in his journals in 1826 “That young lady has a talent for describing the involvement and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful thing I have ever met with.”
(1) Encarta (2) Encarta (3) Food For Thought: Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World (4) Sunday Times 11/10/95

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