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Jane Austen

Jane Austen

The English novelist, Jane Austen is an important figure in the English literary canon. Her most famous novel is Pride and Prejudice (1813) which, like her other works, examines and comments on the life of the British upper-middle class in the 18th and 19th centuries. We will learn more about Jane Austen and her historical context as we study her novels.

Jane Austen: Biography

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire. She was the seventh of eight children. Her parents encouraged their children to learn. Jane Austen's best friend throughout her life was her elder sister, named Cassandra after their mother. In a loving family environment, Jane was free to share her first literary experiments, thought to have been written around 1787.

Austen never married, but since one of the main themes in her novels is romantic love and marriage, there are disputes about her own love life. This part of her biography is mostly clouded in mystery due to her sister Cassandra's protection of Jane's private life.

The 2007 film Becoming Jane (starring Anne Hathway and James McAvoy) weaves together fact and fiction about Jane Austen's life; it is loosely based on the relationship between Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy.

In 1801, Austen moved to Bath with her parents and sister. Soon afterwards, tragedy struck when her father passed away in 1805. The three women moved to Southampton, and then to Chawton. In January 1817, Jane's health started to deteriorate. She thought she was suffering from bile but the modern clinical assessment points to Addison's disease. She prepared her will in April and moved to Winchester in May to seek medical help. She died in Winchester at the age of 41 on July 18th 1817.

Jane Austen wrote seven novels and two further unfinished ones, along with plays, poetry, letters, and three volumes of early writings. The novels Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815) were published anonymously during her lifetime, thanks to her brother Henry. After his sister's passing, Henry published Persuasion (1818) and Northanger Abbey (1818) and announced her authorship.

Jane Austen: Books and Quotes

Jane Austen wrote a number of books, all of which deal with the themes of propriety and class, morality, romantic love, friendship, and the position of women in the Regency Era in England. Let's take a closer look.

Sense and Sensibility (1811)

I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.

Jane Austen's first full-length novel, Sense and Sensibility (originally titled Elinor and Marianne) tells the story of two impoverished sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Elinor represents 'sense' – she disregards her heart in favour of her mind. Marianne, on the other hand, is the epitome of 'sensibility' – she is open about her feelings and doesn't hold back. In the course of the novel, Elinor has the opportunity to embrace her feelings by marrying the man she falls in love with. As for Marianne, she learns a bit of common sense by suffering disappointment in love and then marrying a steady, older man.

Pride and Prejudice (1813)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The novel Pride and Prejudice (originally called First Impressions) is in part a cautionary tale about how deceiving first impressions can be. The novel follows the proud daughter of a country gentleman, Elizabeth Bennet, and the prejudiced aristocratic landowner, Fitzwilliam Darcy, as they go from resenting each other to falling in love.

Pride and Prejudice is such a beloved story that there have been more than 15 screen adaptations!

But did you know that there are also adaptations set in modern times? Think of the romantic comedy Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) and the Bollywood musical Bride and Prejudice (2004).

Mansfield Park (1814)

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.

Mansfield Park is among Austen's more serious books. It tells the story of a poor young woman, Fanny Price, who is under the care of her wealthy relatives, the Bertram family, who mostly disregard her. The novel is a cautionary tale about morality and deception, at the end of which the heroine emerges morally unblemished.

Emma (1815)

You must be the best judge of your own happiness.

Emma is the most comical of Austen's novels. The troubles of the main character, Emma, are of her own making but are resolved at the end of the story. Emma Woodhouse has apparently not a care in the world – she is beautiful, clever, and rich. It is because she has it all that she decides to take young, naive Harriet Smith under her wing. By trying to steer Harriet's life in what she considers to be the right direction, Emma creates chaos in her own life.

Did you know that the cult-classic 1995 film Clueless is a modern adaptation of Emma?

Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous)

It is only a novel ... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.

Northanger Abbey (originally titled Susan) is a satire of the gothic genre (quite popular in Austen's day). The novel tells the story of young Catherine Morland, a kind-hearted but naive young woman. Her tendency to read gothic novels and her overactive imagination lead her to some misunderstandings and put her in uncomfortable situations. In the end, Catherine learns some common sense and finds happiness.

Persuasion (1818, posthumous)

Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.

Persuasion is a novel about second chances. It tells the story of Anne Elliot, who was persuaded not to marry Frederick Wentworth, the man she was in love with, because of his lack of status. Eight years later, Wenworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars with the naval rank of a Captain. Anne meets him again and their love is rekindled.

What are the main themes in Jane Austen's novels?

The five main themes in Jane Austen's novels are morality, class and society, gender roles, love, and family.

Morality

Morality is a constant theme in Austen's novels. For the characters in her novels, morality is closely connected to social etiquette. Austen's main characters struggle to find the balance between their social obligations and their hearts' desires. In the end, they all overcome that struggle and find happiness, not in spite of, but because of, morality.

Religion, and more precisely Christianity, also plays an important role in the moral choices of the characters. The positive characters in Jane Austen's works are guided by Christian values. In fact, most of the female protagonists marry clergymen!

Morality in Jane Austen's works is tied to greed. Negative characters, such as Mr Wickham, are portrayed as immoral because their greed is stronger than their sense of morality.

Class and Society

Most of the female protagonists in Austen's novels are middle-class; their lack of fortune being the main obstacle in their pursuit of happiness. Upper-class characters are often unwilling to associate with people from a lower class.

Austen's social commentary is still relevant today – a person's status in society does not necessarily reflect their character or moral standing.

Gender roles

Austen's novels focus on women and their role in society. In 18th and 19th century England, women had to adhere to social etiquette. Austen commented on the challenges and limitations faced by women, including a lack of economic independence, expectations about marriage, and the underestimation of their intellect.

The fact that Austen herself had to publish her novels anonymously, and couldn't reveal that she, a woman, had written them, is indicative of the way women were viewed at the time.

Love

All of Austen's novels are love stories. Jane Austen's characters marry for all kinds of reasons, such as gaining wealth, security, social status, etc. At that time, marriage was the only ticket to freedom for a woman. However, the main characters had one thing in common – they insisted on marrying for love. In Austen's world, men and women weren't equal in marriage, but at least her heroines are able to fall in love with men who love and respect them for who they are as women, and as people.

Family

Family is another important theme in Jane Austen's books. The family from which a character comes largely determined their social status, education and prospects.

Particular attention is paid to the relationship between sisters, which derives from the author's own relationship with her sister Cassandra.

Why is Jane Austen important?

Jane Austen wrote in the genre known as 'novel of manners', also known as the 'domestic novel'.

A novel of manners is a realistic work of fiction that depicts the customs and values of the time.

Jane Austen wrote stories about ordinary people and their lives in such a way that, over 200 years later, readers still care about the fates of her protagonists. Austen created vivid characters; both the witty Elizabeth Bennet and the pompous Mr Collins, were relatable to readers then, and are still as relatable now.

Austen's style, which combined realism, humour, and social commentary, set the stage for the movement of literary realism.

Jane Austen - Key takeaways

  • Jane Austen was an English novelist who wrote in the genre of the novel of manners (or the domestic novel).
  • Jane Austen was born on December 16th 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire. She died of Addison disease in Winchester on 18 July 1817.
  • In her works, Jane Austen used realism and humour to examine and comment on the life of the British middle class in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Jane Austen's most notable novels are Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion.
  • The main themes in Jane Austen's novels are morality, class and society, gender roles, love, and family.

Frequently Asked Questions about Jane Austen

Jane Austen died of Addison disease. Austen herself thought that she was suffering from bile.


Jane Austen was born in England where she spent her whole life in the South, in and around Hampshire. She lived in Steventon, Bath, Southampton, Chawton, and she spent her last days in Winchester.


Jane Austen wrote seven completed novels, two unfinished novels, plays, poetry, letters, and three volumes of early writings. Her most notable works are the novels: Pride and Prejudice (1813), Sense and Sensibility (1811), Northanger Abbey (1818), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), and Persuasion (1818).


Jane Austen never married.

Final Jane Austen Quiz

Question

Which of these is NOT a main theme in Sense and Sensibility?

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Answer

The working class

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What year was Sense and Sensibility published in?

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Answer

1811

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What literary movement corresponds to 'sense'?

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Answer

 Neoclassicism

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What literary movement corresponds to 'sensibility'?

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Answer

Romanticism

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Question

Which adjective would you use to describe John Willoughby?

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Answer

Dishonest

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Who does Elinor Dashwood marry?

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Answer

Edward Ferrars

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Question

Marianne is the eldest Dashwood sister.

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Answer

False.

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John and Fanny Dashwood welcome Mrs Dashwood and her daughters to stay in Norland Park for as long as they like.

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Answer

False.

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Marianne marries Colonel Brandon.

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Answer

True.

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How would you describe Elinor Dashwood?

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Answer

Rational

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Elinor and Marianne are both calm and collected.

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Answer

False.

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Who does Edward Ferrars really love?

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Answer

 Elinor Dashwood

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Question

Sense and Sensibility is a novel of manners because it depicts in great detail the late eighteenth-century English high society.

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Answer

True.

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What year was Jane Austen born in?

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Answer

1775

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Where did Jane Austen die?

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Answer

Winchester

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Question

Which of these novels originally had a different title?

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Answer

Sense and Sensibility


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What was the original title of Northanger Abbey?


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Answer

 Susan


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Who was Jane Austen's closest person?

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Answer

Her sister Cassandra

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Which is the most serious of Jane Austen's novels?

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Answer

Mansfield Park

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Which is the most comical of Jane Austen's novels?

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Answer

Emma

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Question

True or False: during her lifetime, Jane Austen's novels were published anonymously.

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Answer

True.

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True or False: kingship is one of the main themes in Jane Austen's novels.


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Answer

False.

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Question

True or False: The novel of manners is a realistic work of fiction that depicts the customs and values of a specific society.


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Answer

True.

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Question

Which novel is this quote from?


'It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.'


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Answer

Pride and Prejudice

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Question

True or False: Jane Austen used free indirect discourse in the third-person narrative.

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which of these is NOT a main theme in Jane Austen's works?


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Answer

Superstition

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True or False: Jane Austen's novels focus on men and their role in 18th-19th century English society.


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Answer

False.

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Question

When did Jane Austen begin to write Sense and Sensibility?

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Answer

1795

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What was the original title of Sense and Sensibility?

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Answer

Elinor and Marianne

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What was the original title of Sense and Sensibility?

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Answer

Elinor and Marianne

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What was the inscription on the novel's first edition?

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'By a lady'

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What was the inscription on the novel's first edition?

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'By a lady'

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Sense and Sensibility is a novel of manners and...?

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Answer

a domestic novel

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True or false: Jane Austen is well-known for her use of satire.

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True.

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True or false: Sense and Sensibility is a coming-of-age story.

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True.

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True or false: as readers of Sense and Sensibility, we are allowed to enter into both Elinor's and Marianne's inner thoughts and emotions.


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Answer

False.

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Most of the action in the novel takes place in...?

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Answer

Devonshire

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Which late 18th century English social class does the novel concern?

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Answer

The gentry

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True or false: one of the key characteristics of neoclassicism is the free expression of feelings.

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Answer

False.

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True or false: in Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen acknowledges the changing literary landscape of her time.

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Answer

True.

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Was Emma published anonymously?

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Yes. Jane Austen, like George Elliot, was wise enough to know that in her era a novel by a woman would either not be published or not sell well.

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What genre does Emma belong to?

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Comedy

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How many volumes was Emma published in?

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Three

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What type of narration style does Jane Austen use in Emma?

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The narration style in Emma is third person omniscient.

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Which comedic subgenre does Emma belong to?

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Answer

Comedy of manners.

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Can Emma be regarded as a coming of age novel?

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Answer

Yes. Similar to the equally famous Catcher in the Rye, Emma is a coming of age novel that explores personal growth.

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What period is Emma set in?

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Regency.

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What is the difference between satire and comedy?

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Answer

Comedy is the broad category, while satire is a form of comedy that pokes fun at perceived foibles.

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Why is Emma considered a forerunner of literary Realism?

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Answer

Rather than create elaborate and unrealistic stories, Jane Austen uses simple prose and the closely observed day to day life of normal people to highlight absurdities in gender roles and social conventions.

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Question

What are some themes highlighted in Emma that are still relevant today?

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Answer

Gender roles

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