Jane Austen was Born - December 16, 1775

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This week (December 12-18) in English literary history – Robert Browning died (December 12, 1889); Aphra Behn was baptized (December 14, 1640); George Orwell finished Road to Wigan Pier (December 15, 1936); Roald Dahl married Liccy Crosland (December 15, 1983); Jane Austen was born (December 16, 1775); Wilhelm Grimm died (December 16, 1859); Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas first aired on CBS (December 18, 1966). 

Highlighted story of the week -  

On December 16, 1775, English novelist Jane Austen was born, the seventh of eight children of a clergyman in a country village in Hampshire, England. Jane was very close to her older sister, Cassandra, who remained her faithful editor and critic throughout her life. The girls had five years of formal schooling, then studied with their father. Jane read voraciously and began writing stories as early as age 12, completing a novella at age 14. Austen's quiet, happy world was disrupted when her parents suddenly decided to retire to Bath in 1801. Jane hated the resort town and found herself without the time or peace and quiet required to write. Instead, she amused herself by making close observations of ridiculous society manners. After her father's death in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister lived with one of her brothers until 1808, when another brother provided them a permanent home at Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire.  

Jane concealed her writing from most of her acquaintances, slipping her writing paper under a blotter when someone entered the room. Though she avoided society, she was charming, intelligent, and funny, and had several admirers. She actually accepted the marriage proposal of a well-off friend of her family's, but the next day withdrew her acceptance, having decided she could only marry for love. She published several more novels before her death, including Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). She died in Winchester on July 18, 1817 at age 42, of what may have been Addison's disease and was buried at Winchester Cathedral. Nearly 200 years after her death, Austen is one of a handful of authors to have found enduring popularity with both academic and popular readers.  

Check back every Friday for a new installment of “This Week in English Literary History.”  

Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that include the award winning Literary Legends of the British Isles and America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His books can be purchased from Schiffer Publishing, Barnes & Noble, Powell’s Books, Amazon and other fine book sellers.

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