Jane Austen was an English novelist whose books, set among the English middle and upper classes, are notable for their wit, social observation and acute insights into the lives of early 19th century women.
She was born on 16 December 1775 in the village of Steventon in Hampshire. Jane was one of eight children of a clergyman and grew up in a close-knit family. She began to write as a teenager. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. After the death of Jane’s father in 1805 Jane, her sister Cassandra and their mother moved several times eventually settling in Chawton.
Jane’s family moved to Southampton in 1806 and lived here until 1809 with her brother Frank. The garden of her house backed onto the well preserved medieval town walls and, although the original house no longer stands, the Juniper Berry pub now occupies the site. Jane attended Winter Balls at the Dolphin Hotel in the High Street, where she had also celebrated her 18th birthday. We know she saw plays at the former Theatre Royal in French Street and also visited Hythe using a hired boat.
Jane and her family worshipped at All Saints Church (once on the corner of High Street and East Street, destroyed during the Second World War). Jane herself wrote many letters whilst living here, some of which have survived as have some letters of her sister Cassandra. A later memoir by a descendant gives us some idea of her time in Southampton, the people she lived among and the places she visited.
Henry Austen who was 4 years older than Jane, helped her negotiate with a publisher and her first novel, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, appeared in 1811. Her next novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which she described as her “own darling child” received highly favourable reviews. ‘Mansfield Park’ was published in 1814, then ‘Emma’ in 1816. ‘Emma’ was dedicated to the prince regent, an admirer of her work. All of Jane Austen’s novels were published anonymously.
In 1816, Jane began to suffer from ill-health, probably due to Addison’s disease. She travelled from Chawton to Winchester to receive treatment, and died there on 18 July 1817. Two more novels, ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ were published posthumously and a final novel was left incomplete.