Did you know THIS about Jane Austen?

Did you know THIS about Jane Austen?

Those of us who appreciate Jane Austen have probably read a few essays about her, or seen the various biographical movies that shed light on her private life. Maybe you are a true Austen expert who has delved into the finer minutiae of her life so that these facts won’t be a revelation. Then again, maybe some of this will surprise you!

 

RevGeorge Austen
George Austen
Cassandra Leigh Austen
Cassandra Leigh-Austen

Jane was the second daughter and seventh child out of eight total born to Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra Leigh Austen. Cassandra was of a higher class than her husband, thus “marrying down” if you will. By all accounts it was a happy marriage with no regrets. Cassandra’s social connections and upbringing obviously influenced Jane, giving her a ready knowledge for her novels that a typical clergyman’s daughter may not have had.

Aside from a brief attendance at a girl’s boarding school with her sister, Jane was entirely educated at home by her father. A great deal of her knowledge was gained by reading books and various connections, such as two of her brothers becoming Naval officers (admirals) providing insight into that world.

All the Austen children were literary and talented. They wrote plays, stories, and poems primarily designed to entertain each other. Jane was the most prolific and her early work – called her “juvenilia” – date from the time she was six years old and have been compiled into three volumes. Her first novel was begun when a mere fourteen!

Jane was a bit wild, unlike Cassandra who was the sensible one. She never married but had at least three romances: Tom LeFroy, an Irishman who later became Chief Justice of Ireland and who was probably “encouraged” not to marry someone considered beneath him (see Becoming Jane); a clergyman met in Devon who died unexpectedly before able to pursue the relationship; and Harris Wither, whose proposal of marriage she accepted due to his wealth, but then broke off the following day, creating a minor scandal.

Austen Navy bros
Navy Brothers: Charles Austen (L) & Frank Austen (R)
Tom LeFroy
Tom LeFroy
HarrisBigg-Wither
Harris Bigg-Wither

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finances, particularly after Rev. Austen died in 1805, forced Jane to move numerous times in her life. She lived in Bath for roughly five years but hated it there, her writing nearly non-existent during that time. She also disliked London, although apparently she loved attending theatre performances and balls. Her happiest and most productive times were her younger years at Stevenage and later in Hampshire.

Winchester Cathedral Jane Austen Plaque Nr Tomb
Jane Austen’s tomb at Winchester Cathedral, London (click for larger image)

Only four of Jane’s six novels were published in her lifetime. All of her novels were published as written by “A Lady.” Her brother Henry added a forward to Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published after her death, revealing that she was the author of the others, yet oddly her burial stone at Winchester Cathedral does not mention that she was an author. Few knew she was a writer, although the Prince Regent was a huge fan and asked that Emma be dedicated to him, a request she could not refuse although she detested the Prince!

Her books received generally favorable reviews but were not hugely popular. They were never reprinted until after 1831, and Jane only made some 700 pounds from her work in her lifetime. She would not be considered a great novelist until late in the nineteenth century; however, her books have never been out of print since 1833.

Outside the room where Jane Austen would write while living at Chawton House in Hampshire there was a swinging door that creaked. Austen refused to allow it to be fixed because the creaking gave her warning when anyone was entering the room, allowing her time to hide her work.

There is evidence that Jane’s relationship with her mother was not a good one. Experts suspect this is one reason why a large percent of the mothers in her novels are not exactly perfect specimens!

The first known appearance of the word “baseball” is in Northanger Abbey. It is named as one of Catherine Morland’s favorite pastimes.

The use of the term “Janeites” to describe Austen’s fans dates from at least the early twentieth century. While most Austen fans today are women, early Janeites were often men. Rudyard Kipling wrote a short story called “The Janeites” about a group of World War I soldiers who were closet Austen fanatics.

Jane died in 1817 at the age of 41. Her cause of death is unknown, although speculation based on current medical knowledge is that she suffered from Addison’s Disease. Others speculate she was poisoned, accidentally most likely, but….

 

Was that fun? Did you learn something? I hope so! The truth is that Jane’s life is shrouded in mystery. Only a few private letters remain since most were destroyed by her sister, and her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh edited the ones published in A Memoir to Jane Austen in 1869 to color Jane in a softer light than her true caustic self. Her words are often humorous and wry, thus not always clear whether she was joking or expressing a serious belief.

What do you think? Any fun Jane Austen facts to share?

25 Responses to Did you know THIS about Jane Austen?

  1. Sorry, the Hardwicke act doesn’t say anything about a man marrying his deceased wife’s sister. That was all in the church rules of marriage. Doing so before 1835 made the marriage voidable. After 1835 it was illegal. it remained the annual blister ( as Gilbert and Sullivan called it) until 1907 or so.
    The Handsome Proctor had to find some one to give him a living or a position someplace as dons and proctors couldn’t marry ( neither could students be married) A relative presented him with ta living which enabled him to marry. His background was one that many say wasn’t even of the gentry. However, clergymen like officers in the army and navy were deemed gentlemen no matter their birth status.

  2. How fascinating! I’m new to Jane Austen’s books (and to JAFF I’m even newer) so all this is news to me and I’m obsessed by it all! It does look like she has her fathers nose but the first brother looks like he might have inherited the same nose as his mother. It’s hard to tell from paintings though…

  3. Great piece, very interesting. I saw a TV programme about her once that speculated that Austen’s rise in popularity so long after he death was in part due to the increase in rail travel. As passenger numbers increased there grew to be demand for reading material on the train so cheap books were made using out-of-copyright texts and Austen was brought to a whole new audience.

  4. Just last night, my husband came up with a fun fact. After the Battle of the Nile, when Nelson was presented a “Mamalouc” cap to mark his victory. Austen then went about in her own Mamalouc cap, which in the book my husband was reading (Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars by Jenny Uglow), was described as a fez. I liked the thought of Austen wearing the fez and it reminded me of the line from Sanditon where Mr Parker complains that calling his house Trafalgar isn’t quite the thing anymore.

  5. Hi everyone! Whew! My blog day got messed up a bit, didn’t it? LOL! Sorry for the website technical issues. Luckily all is now well *knocking on wood* so we are back in business. Yeah!

  6. I didn’t know that her mother “married down” – very interesting! And yet Jane may not have gotten along with her mother who had married for love. Hmm… Any idea how her parents met?

    • Good question. I don’t know how they met, so I had to look it up. According to the Jane Austen Centre:

      “Cassandra Leigh Austen (1739-1827) had family connections to a Duke as well as Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey. Reverend George Austen (1731-1805) was known as ‘The Handsome Proctor’ of St. John’s College, Oxford. It was here that the two met while Miss Leigh was visiting her uncle, Dr. Theophilus Leigh, Master of Balliol Collge. It seems that Cassandra was much like her daughters when young, witty and shrewd, while Rev. Austen was more scholarly and calm. They seemed to compliment each other perfectly. It would seem that Rev. Austen followed Miss Leigh to Bath to continue his courtship of her, as they were married there, at “old” St. Swithin’s Church, April 26, 1764.”

      Now we all know! Cool 🙂

      • “The Handsome Proctor” – heh-heh! So she went for looks. I wonder if Stoneleigh is still in the family.

  7. Jane’s brother Charles married the youngest daughter of the late Attorney-General of Bermuda in 1807. Charles and Frances Palmer had two children before she died in 1814. He then married his late wife’s sister Harriet Palmer in 1820. Charles and Harriet had 2 boys and 2 girls. However, the Hardwicke Act of 1753 if a man married his late wife’s sister, the marriage was not legal. (Of course, girls as young as 12 and boys as young as 14 could marry.) Crazy world!

  8. I enjoy “trivia” — I can’t tell if Jane had her father’s nose, but the two Navy brothers do! Thank you for sharing!

  9. Thanks for the lovely post, Sharon! I’ve always been fascinated with her ‘Devon romance’ and with what might have happened if the gentleman came back to court her. She might have had a more rewarding and happier life – but then again she might have had less time to write…

    How amazing it is to think that she got paid so very little for her published works during her lifetime, and yet now her works are a multi-million dollar industry! I wonder what she’d make of the following she has, 200 years on.

  10. Great post! I love all the little extras including the pics. I didn’t realize that JA didn’t care for Bath yet that is where the JA center is. Interesting what Cinta said about the 8th child. Looking forward to the next blog post. ~Jen Red~

  11. Thank you for sharing this Sharon. I knew some of it but not all. I especially loved seeing the pictures of her suitors. Even for that day and age LeFroy looks handsome to me and surprisingly Wither does not look as bad as I imagined him. 🙂 It is sad that Jane never married but I think she may never have written like she did without going through her life as a single woman. Lots to ponder.

    • It seems to be the general idea that if Jane had married she would not have written. Perhaps. Then again, other women did write when married, and if she had married a rich man (like Biggs) she would have had the time at her disposal. Maybe more so, in fact. Of course we will never know!

      • I often wonder if she regretted, at least for a moment, not marrying Bigg Wither after her father’s death. Manydown was near Steventon and the Bigg sisters were good friends. The fact that she had the courage to tell Harris no the next day speaks volumes about marrying for love instead of security.

  12. I pretty much have this this in various pieces here and there but it is very educational and I thank you for writing it. I think when she wrote<"Pride and Prejudice," she was Lizzy in her ways ie, didn't get along with her mother, was in well learned by her father, but yet she didn't marry. However, she did find love and had a broken heart. She made Lizzy to be the person she wanted to be in real life. That is just my opinion. Thank you for a great article.

  13. Very informative post! Did you also know that although there were 8 Austen siblings, in the memoirs only 7 appear? That is because they tried to hide the fact that George, one of Jane Austen’s brothers, was mentally deficient. He was raised and nursed by a family in a nearby town, the Cullams, and when he became an adult, he was sent to live with another relative, who also had mental problems, so they could be nursed together.

    • Thanks Cinta! I appreciate you adding that tidbit. I did know about the sibling kept hidden, as it were. I just wasn’t aware of the fine details, such as whether it was a mental or physical deficiency. Thanks for clearing it up!

  14. Thank you for this. I have the film Becoming Jane and this expands on that. It is sad she didn’t live to see her fame but I hope she can look down and see what a great effect her writing has had on people today. I am grateful to you and many other authors for your variations and follow ons and hope to read many more.

Your thoughts are precious!