Jane Austen, 1775-1817



Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was a rector. She was the second daughter and seventh child in a family of eight. She was mostly tutored at home, and irregularly at school. Her parents were avid readers and she received a broader education than many women of her time. Her father supported his daughter's writing aspirations and tried to help her get a publisher. Austen first gave the novel its modern character through the treatment of everyday life. Although she was widely read in her lifetime, she published her works anonymously. The most urgent preoccupation of her young, well-bred heroines is courtship, and finally marriage in the world dominated by men. Austen herself never married. Her best-known books include Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Emma (1816). Virginia Woolf called her "the most perfect artist among women."

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Surrey (England), fiction, 19th. century, social life and customs
The protagonist, Emma Woodhouse, is a wealthy, pretty, self-satisfied young woman. She is left alone with her hypochondriac father. Her governess, Miss Taylor, marries a neighbor, Mr. Weston, and blind to her own feelings, he indulges himself with meddlesome and unsuccessful attempts at matchmaking among her friends and neighbors. She makes a protégée of Harriet Smith, an illegitimate girl of no social status and tries to manipulate a marriage between Harriet and Mr. Elton, a young clergyman, who has set his sight on Emma. Emma has feelings about Mr. Weston's son. When Harriet becomes interested in George Knightley, a neighboring squire who has been her friend, Emma starts to understand her own limitations. He has been her moral adviser, and secretly loves her. Finally Emma finds her destiny in marriage with him. Harriet, who is left to decide for herself, marries Robert Martin, a young farmer.

England, fiction, late 18th. century to early 19th. century, social life and customs
The story deals with issues surrounding courtship and marriage among the landed gentry in the late 18th century and early 19th century. The main character is Elizabeth Bennet, a 20-year-old woman possessed of a quick mind, sharp wit, and keen sense of justice. Elizabeth's father, Mr. Bennet, spends much of his time hiding in his study, a refuge from Elizabeth's bothersome mother. Mrs. Bennet (whose manners and conduct are decidedly "of the people") is determined to see each of her five daughters successfully married to a gentleman of sufficient fortune to support a wife. Marriage plays a huge role in Pride and Prejudice. Some characters marry for security, some marry for wealth and some marry for love. The idea of marriage is very important throughout the novel, primarily because it was often the only way for a woman of the period to secure her freedom, social status, and living standard.

England, fiction, 19th. century, social life and customs
In Mansfield Park, for example, Austen gives us Fanny Price, a poor young woman who has grown up in her wealthy relatives' household without ever being accepted as an equal. The only one who has truly been kind to Fanny is Edmund Bertram, the younger of the family's two sons. Into this Cinderella existence comes Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary, who are visiting relatives in the neighborhood. Soon Mansfield Park is given over to all kinds of gaiety, including a daring interlude spent dabbling in theatricals. Young Edmund is smitten with Mary, and Henry Crawford woos Fanny. Yet these two charming, gifted, and attractive siblings gradually reveal themselves to be lacking in one essential Austenian quality: principle. Without good principles to temper passion, the results can be disastrous, and indeed, Mansfield Park is rife with adultery, betrayal, social ruin, and ruptured friendships.

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