It can be safely said that Jane Austen (pictured at left in miniature, in this Cosway-binding style edition of Pride and Prejudice) is one of the best-loved English authors of all time. Born December 16, 1775, Austen made a mark on the literary world with her romantic fiction set among the landed gentry in England. Interestingly, although she is one of the most popular and well-known authors, there is little known about her private life. There have been several books devoted to her life and work, however, including Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Hunter Spence, published in 2003. It details the early life of Austen and her relationships, based on correspondence between her and her sister, Cassandra. The book is the basis for the 2007 film Becoming Jane.

Austen was one of eight children born to parents Reverend James Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen - both members of substantial gentry families. Jane, like her sister Cassandra, remained unmarried. All the Austen children were literary with Jane being the most prolific. Her writing career began early when she wrote stories, poems and plays for her family's entertainment. These pieces of work, originally written between 1787 and 1793, now known as Juvenilia, were ultimately bound in three volumes.

Jane Austen is most famously known for her six major novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. However, there are several other novels and stories that were either started, abandoned or published posthumously. One of Austen's earliest works (excluding Juvenilia) was a short epistolary novel called Lady Susan. In 1796 Austen began a second novel, titled First Impressions. She completed the first draft when she was 21 and her father offered the manuscript to a publisher in London but was turned down. This novel later became Pride and Prejudice, and in 1813, publisher Thomas Egerton agreed to publish it and the novel was an immediate success.More impressively, Pride and Prejudice remains a beloved and relevant success today as well, found in curriculae, conversation and book clubs alike. Much of Pride and Prejudice's appeal is attributable to the character of Mr. Darcy. Even now, any literary quiz about romance tends to mention Fitzwilliam Darcy as a romantic ideal. There have been many screen adaptations, with Mr. Darcy being played by Laurence Olivier, Colin Firth and others. None has quite managed to match the Mr. Darcy of our imaginations, though, found in the book. Pride and Prejudice is such a timeless, enormously iconic novel that it has inspired others to write their own interpretations, sequels and parodies. A few of these are Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, and Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James.

Thomas Egerton also published Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park. Austen's first published novel, Sense and Sensibility, centers on the experiences of two dissimilar sisters who undergo comparable experiences in the loss of the men they love. Many of the themes and focuses of the novel are clearly parallel to Lady Susan. With a cast of characters satirically drawn, Sense and Sensibility remains another classic example of Austen's skill.

Arguably the most fun of all Austen's six published novels is Emma. Detailing the mishaps and misadventures of a young, would-be cupid in Regency-era England, Emma is full of cringe-worthy moments to set the readers' teeth on edge. And it's not unintentional - there is a famous Jane Austen quote that reads as follows: "I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." And she does. Emma Woodhouse is so privileged, so self-congratulatory and so entitled, so convinced of her own goodness and importance, that it is impossible to take her seriously, let alone like her, for much of the book. Austen's writing skill, however, allows Emma to develop and grow under the reader's gaze, through experience, embarrassment and at last self-awareness, and in a flash, the reader comes to realize much of her negativity was merely the result of her youth. By the end of the novel, the reader cheers for Emma Woodhouse (and indeed for Mr. Knightley, as well). Emma is much beloved, by may ardent fans.

Jane Austen died in 1817 at 41 from a mysterious ailment that as yet no one has truly identified. After her death, Jane's siblings arranged to have Persuasion and Northanger Abbey published as a set in December 1817. She is buried in Winchester Cathedral and her brother James composed the epitaph which mentions "extraordinary endowments of her mind" but not her writing.

 

Persuasion

London, J M Dent and Sons Ltd. 1934. First thus edition. London, J M Dent and Sons Ltd. 1934. First thus edition.
Illustrated by Chris Hammond with gold gilt floral illustrations on cover and spine. 1898. Illustrated by Chris Hammond with gold gilt floral illustrations on cover and spine. 1898.
Signet Classic, hardcover. Published in 1992. Signet Classic, hardcover. Published in 1992.
Dover Publications Inc., 1997. Paperback edition. Dover Publications Inc., 1997. Paperback edition.
Penguin Books Ltd, UK, 2012. Part of Penguin’s Clothbound Classics. Penguin Books Ltd, UK, 2012. Part of Penguin’s Clothbound Classics.

Biographies

Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin Jane Austen: A Life

by Claire Tomalin

Jane Austen: A Lifeby Carol Shields Jane Austen: A Life

by Carol Shields

Why Jane Austen? by Rachel Brownstein Why Jane Austen?

by Rachel Brownstein

A Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh A Memoir of Jane Austen

by James Edward Austen-Leigh

Jane Austen Collections

More Jane Austen Editions

Jane Austen Pocket Note Pads – Set of 4Jane Austen Pocket Note Pads – Set of 4

Inspired by the dance cards of the Regency era.

Pocket Posh Jane AustenPocket Posh Jane Austen

Purse-sized collection of puzzles and quizzes.

The Jane Austen CookbookThe Jane Austen Cookbook

Sophisticated dishes which Jane would have enjoyed at balls, picnics, and supper parties.

In the Garden with Jane AustenIn the Garden with Jane Austen

This book strolls through the gardens that Austen would have known and visited.

Fashion in the Time of Jane AustenFashion in the Time of Jane Austen

by Jane Austen's world was revolutionary in every sense including fashion.

 

Most Expensive Jane Austen Books Sold on AbeBooks

1. The Novels of Jane Austen - $5,111
Published in London by Richard Bentley in 1836-1837.

2. The Novels and the Letters - $5,008
The text based on collation of the early editions by R. W. Chapman. With notes, indexes and illustrations from contemporary sources.

3. Pride and Prejudice - $3,950
First one-volume edition, first illustrated edition, and only the fifth edition overall.

4. Pride and Prejudice - $3,500
A beautiful Art Nouveau floral spine decorated copy.

5. The Novels of Jane Austen - $3,300
The text based on collation of the early editions by R. W. Chapman. Finely bound by the Bayntun-Riviere bindery in half crimson morocco.

6. The Novels - $3,200
Published in London by Richard Bentley in 1856.

7. The Works of Jane Austen - $2,980
Bentley edition of 1856. All five volumes expertly re-backed to preserve the original green cloth boards, contents very clean, all plates intact.

8. Austen's Novels - $2,910
Hardcover complete six volume set, frontispiece engravings, marbled endpapers and edges, half leather, marbled sides, raised bands with gilt tooling.

9. Pride and Prejudice - $2,870
Published in London by George Allen in 1906, this is a beautifully bound example of the Hugh Thomson illustrated edition.

10. Sense and Sensibility - $2,545
First Bentley edition, third overall. Bentley’s Standard Novels was an extremely successful series of reprints published monthly between 1831 and 1854, and it included the first inexpensive, single volume versions of Austen’s novels.

 

10 Fascinating Facts About Jane Austen... In Costume!

 

Which Jane Austen novel is your favorite, and why?