Celebrating Jane Austen - 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of her death.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in the Rectory of the Hampshire village of Steventon. Her parents, George and Cassandra Austen had eight children, six sons and two daughters. The rector was an Oxford educated man who cultivated a love of learning and creative thinking from which all his children would benefit.

Early life in Steventon

Although some time was spent away at school, the Austen daughters were largely educated at home, due in part to the families financial constraints. The family often entertained themselves by writing and reciting stories and plays and the archives show that Jane possessed a ready wit and was writing creatively in her teenage years. Other aspects of her life were as you might expect of a respectable family in an English country village. She spend time helping in the family home, attending church, visiting neighbours and family, all the while making observations of the human condition that she would utilise in her work. She was writing at this time producing short works that would later form the basis of the novels so well known today.

Moving to Bath

In 1801 Jane’s father retired and she moved with her elder sister Cassandra and her parents to Bath, where they lived initially at 4 Sydney Place. The life in the bustling City of Bath must have been very different from village life in the Rectory at Steventon. The Austen’s left Bath and travelled in the summer months for holidays by the sea in Lyme Regis, Sidmouth, Margate and Dawlish. Cassandra and Jane also returned to Hampshire to visit friends and to Kent to visit their brother Edward and his family. Jane did little writing in this period and some say that she was not at all happy living in Bath.

The death of Jane’s father

Jane’s father died in 1804 and the loss of his pension meant financial difficulties for his widow and daughters. They lived at two further addresses in Bath before removing to Southampton in 1806 to live with their brother, Frank and his family. This is the kind of experience that confronted the Bennett sisters in Pride and Prejudice and was the unhappy experience of many unmarried women without money at this time.

A home at Chawton

So for some years the sisters and their mother were dependent on the Austen brothers for financial support. When Frank and his family removed to the Isle of Wight Janes brother Edward offered them a permanent home at Chawton Cottage which was part of the estate he had inherited. Chawton is close to Steventon and must have been a welcome homecoming for Jane, her mother and sister Cassandra.

Jane begins to write in earnest.

It was during the Chawton years that Jane’s writing began to flourish and she became a published author. The work that she had started back in the Steventon days was revised and reworked and she published Sense and Sensibility in 1811 and Pride and Prejudice in 1813. These two novels were followed by Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815).

Illness and death

In 1817 Jane became very ill and moved to Winchester to be near medical help. However she died on 18 July 1817 and was buried in Winchester Cathedral. Her mother and sister continued to live at Chawton until their deaths and there are memorials to both of them in Chawton churchyard.

Janes work

All of her worked published in her lifetime was published anonymously. In the early 19th century it was not considered possible or acceptable that a woman should write successful works of literature in return for money. She was identified as the author in a biographical note when Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published after her death. Her gravestone in the Cathedral makes no mention of her writing. As her reputation as an author grew a brass plaque and memorial window were added at later dates.

Visiting locations associated with Jane Austen

You can visit many locations associated with Jane and her works as part of a private guided tour with Discover England Tours. Steventon Church, Winchester Cathedral, City of Bath, Lyme Regis, Chawton Cottage.