Becca Anderson, author of The Book of Awesome Women, has written a new blog post on the legendary Jane Austen. Read all about Jane’s life and career here!
It is hard to believe that Jane Austen, today beloved by readers everywhere and regarded as one of the true masters of the English novel, received little critical or popular attention during her lifetime. Indeed, she spent twenty-five years writing novels—gems that readers now recognize as masterpieces of irony, morality, and vivid characterizations—that were not even published under her own name. Many of her novels center on finding husbands for marriageable daughters, a theme familiar to Jane from her own life.
Born in Hampshire, England, in 1775, she was the seventh child of the Reverend George Austen and his wife, Cassandra. While he had an inherited income that he supplemented by tutoring, his brood of eight children cost a pretty penny; resources were tight. And like Jane’s character Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, he didn’t have much to give his two daughters to marry on. Jane was educated at home, aside from a short stint at a boarding school. At home she read prodigiously (her father had a library of five hundred books), played the piano, and drew.
As a young adult, she attended many social events, where she trained her witty eye on the comings and goings of the people of her class. Her observations would later inform her novels, including Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (both 1818), Sense and Sensibility (1811), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816). She had a flirtation with Tomas Lefroy in 1795, but it didn’t come to anything because he couldn’t afford to marry her. The family moved to Bath in 1801, and Jane had to go with them—unmarried daughters did not live away from home, no matter their age. Here the twenty-seven-year-old apparently fell in love with a mysterious suitor who promised to marry her but died before they could exchange vows. Critics have speculated that she used this personal sorrow to great effect in Persuasion. In 1805, her father died, and like the characters in Pride and Prejudice, she, her sister, and her mother were left in extreme circumstances, forced to rely on meager help from her brothers. One of the brothers provided a house for the three, and they moved to Chawton.
During all this, Jane was writing and even managed to sell Northanger Abbey
to a publisher for ten pounds. (They didn’t publish it, however, until after her death, fourteen years later.) Refusing to be discouraged, she continued writing. Her first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, appeared anonymously (“By a Lady”), and at first, only her family knew it was she who had written it. After Pride and Prejudice appeared, even though it too was anonymous, outsiders began to ascertain that she was the author. Even though her books began to appear regularly, she made virtually no money. Her publishers forced her to pay for her own reprints, and she sold the copyright to Pride and Prejudice for a small lump sum and therefore received no royalties.
By 1816, she was suffering from ill health, ground down by money troubles. One of her brothers who had helped support her went bankrupt, and another lost a large sum. She died in 1817 at age forty-one. It was only after her death that her books began to identify their author. Today, her novels continue to attract widespread attention, in part due to the series of films that have brought new readers to this beloved author.
Those who do not complain are never pitied.
The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever
Crime and punishment. During his life and even after his death, Captain William Kidd’s name was well known in England and the American colonies. He was infamous for the very crime for which he was hanged, piracy. Rebecca Simon dives into the details of the two-year manhunt for Captain Kidd and the events that ensued. Captain Kidd was hanged in 1701, followed by a massive British-led hunt for all pirates during a period known as the Golden Age of Piracy. Ironically, public executions only increased the popularity of pirates. And, because the American colonies relied on pirates for smuggled goods such as spices, wines, and silks; pirates tended to be protected from capture.