Interesting Facts About Jane Austen’s Extraordinary Life and Timeless Novels
Why is Jane Austen important?
Every Austen fan remembers the moment they discovered the magic of Jane.
My moment came in 1995. I was drawn to the cinematic beauty of Ang Lee’s adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. I wanted to see it so badly that it was the first movie I ever saw in the theater by myself.
I loved the stunning fashions, the lovely English countryside, the musical conversations, and the subtle romance and humor.
After I discovered Sense and Sensibility, I went on a bit of a Jane Austen binge.
I read alll the Jane Austen novels. Even some fan fiction -- I was particularly fond of the three-part series telling Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point of view.
Jane Austen’s world is the place I retire to when I need to escape modern life and relax for a moment – but with a great storyline and insanely observant insights on human nature.
We all know an Emma or a Lydia or a Marianne – or a Brandon or a Wickham or a Mr. Collins.
We just know the modern-day versions of them.
To me, Jane Austen’s writing is a lively window into the past. Her novels reach us through time because we recognize our common humanity with her characters.
Jane Austen’s novels made me want to understand the world of Regency England that her characters inhabit. If you’re like me, you love learning more about the time period Jane Austen’s novels are set in.
Keep reading to find answers to commonly asked questions about Jane Austen’s novels and her life.
How many Jane Austen novels are there?
Jane Austen published six completed novels. She left one - Sanditon - unfinished at her death.
Jane Austen began writing novels in the late 1790’s - during her early twenties. After years of rejection, Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811. Jane Austen’s novels in order of publication are:
- Sense and Sensibility, 1811
- Pride and Prejudice, 1813
- Mansfield Park, 1814
- Emma, 1816
- Northanger Abbey, published posthumously in 1818
- Persuasion, published posthumously in 1818
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When are Jane Austen novels set?
Jane Austen began writing her novels in the late 1790s, but they were not published until the early 1810s.
This time in England is generally known as the Regency period – named for the latter part of the reign of King George III. In 1811, the King was deemed unfit to rule – and his son served as a ruler by proxy – or regent.
The official “regency” lasted from 1811 to 1820 – but many people associate the period from 1795 - 1837 as the “Regency period” because of societal norms, fashions, architectural styles, and other trends that define this time frame.
Where is Longbourn in Pride and Prejudice?
I love maps. I especially love maps of places in books. I feel like it gives a greater understanding of the world that the characters inhabit. Reading Jane Austen made me learn about the location of England’s counties!
All of Jane Austen’s novels are set in Regency England - and she makes a point of letting readers know which part of England each particular novel is set in.
In Pride and Prejudice, the Bennet family estate, Longbourn, is in Hertfordshire - a county in southeast England bordering Greater London. Other settings in Pride and Prejudice are a great distance from London – like Pemberley in Derbyshire. And Lydia and Wickham are sent to the Scottish border in Newcastle - as far away as possible. The Jane Austen Society of North America has a great map here.
In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood family begins the novel at their family estate, Norland, in Sussex – a county bordering London to the south. Austen uses the women’s uprooting to faraway Devonshire – bordering Cornwall in England’s west country, a two-day journey to London – to symbolize the precarious nature of their very existence. The JASNA’s map is here.
The Jane Austen Society of North America has easy-to-read maps of all of Austen’s other novels, too. It’s a great resource for any Janeite.
What was Jane Austen’s life like?
Jane Austen was born in 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire – the daughter of a clergyman with connections to the landed gentry. She was the seventh of eight children, with six brothers and one sister. The family lived a comfortable life, and while Jane had only a few years of formal education, she benefitted greatly from her father’s extensive library. He also educated Jane and her siblings at home when he could no longer afford their schooling.
Austen began writing poems when she was twelve - and was writing novels by the age of twenty. Around this time she fell in love with a gentleman Tom Lefroy. Unfortunately, they could not marry because he required a wife with a fortune - a common theme in Jane Austen’s books.
In 1801, when Jane Austen was 26, her father informed the family that they were moving to Bath – 66 miles away – quite a distance in a carriage.
Jane had a difficult time adjusting to life in Bath. Her writing suffered and she found the society taxing. Then her father died in 1805, leaving Jane Austen, her mother, and her sister Cassandra in a precarious financial position – another familiar theme in Austen’s work.
Through the generosity of friends and family, Jane and her sisters survived until one of her brothers gave them a cottage on his estate in Chawton, Hampshire. Being happily settled in Hampshire gave Jane the opportunity to begin the most productive period of her life as an author.
In 1811, Jane Austen published her first novel, Sense and Sensibility. While she was publishing and revising the novels she began in the 1790’s – Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park – she was writing Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
While Jane was writing Persuasion, she began showing signs of a chronic illness. Modern doctors believe it may have been Addison’s disease.
Jane Austen would die of this illness – with her sister at her bedside – in 1817, at the age of 41.
She never married.
How did Jane Austen’s life affect her writing?
Like any writer, Jane Austen wrote about what she knew. And what she knew about was the social world of the landed gentry in Regency England. And she understood the perils of being a woman clinging to the edge of that world.
She also brought a keen eye for the foibles of the human personality to her stories - and the wit to find humor in the absurdity in everyday life.
What makes Jane Austen’s writing so special?
There are many theories on why Jane Austen’s novels are so timeless. Personally, I think it is the vibrancy of her characters. The stories she tells and the emotions that the characters are feeling are entirely relatable to modern audiences. While they are in an unfamiliar setting, we have all been embarrassed by our parents or had to sit through an evening with an insufferable know it all – or a vicious gossip.
I often tell my partner - a great fan of The Office - that I think he would appreciate Austen’s observational humor on different personalities and how they interact.
Centuries of Jane Austen fans would probably agree with me.
If you’ve been looking for a unique gift for a Jane Austen fan – or a literary treat for yourself – check out our Pride and Prejudice book candle!
We also honor Jane Austen’s collective works with our Jane Austen Book Candle Gift Box. Set the mood for your next visit to Regency England with literary candles inspired by Jane Austen’s novels!