“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book!” So wrote Jane Austen inPride and Prejudice. The author ofEmma,Persuasion, andSense and Sensibility is celebrated worldwide for her biting wit, irony, and vivid description of love’s entanglements. Her strong female characters are particularly resonant today.
If you are a budding author captivated by Austen’s storytelling, you’ll want to learn more about her life and work. Read on for six curious facts you probably didn’t know…
1. Jane Austen Had a Little-Known Brother
Jane Austen’s family was large. She had one sister, Cassandra, out of all eight children, but according to her first biography, she had only five brothers. Further investigations revealed that she in fact had a sixth brother—George.
George is not included in some biographies of Austen’s life because he was sent away from the family home due to having epilepsy and learning difficulties. The family visited him regularly and gave him financial support, but this separation is why he is scarcely mentioned in Austen’s correspondence.
2. Jane Austen Published Her Works Anonymously
Four of Austen’s novels were published during her lifetime—Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813),Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816)—but none of these were published under her real name! Sense and Sensibility bore the byline of “A Lady,” while the subsequent three novels were credited as “By the Author of Sense and Sensibility.” It was only upon the publication of Persuasion andNorthanger Abbey (both 1818) that she was posthumously identified as the author of her novels.
3. Jane Austen Became Engaged—for a Night!
Although Austen never married, her love life was far from dull. In December 1802, shortly before her 27th birthday, Jane received—and accepted—a proposal of marriage from Harris Bigg-Wither, a prosperous family friend.
It appears that Jane quickly regretted her decision, though, as the very next day, she broke off the engagement. It is thought that she abandoned her ideas of a marriage of convenience—Bigg-Wither’s money would have provided for her and her family—for the hope of a future union based on love.
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4. Jane Austen Envisaged Her Characters Long After her Novels
Austen’s imagination was not confined to the pages of her novels; she would envisage the evolution of her characters long after she finished the last line. According to her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, Jane would recount details of her characters’ subsequent lives to her family.
Kitty Bennett from Pride and Prejudice was imagined as marrying a clergyman near Pemberley, while her sister Mary married a clerk employed by her Uncle Philips. Mr. Woodhouse, from Emma, was envisaged as housing his daughter and son-in-law for two years after Emma’s wedding to Mr. Knightley.
5. Jane Austen Stopped Writing for a Decade
There is scarce knowledge of the milestones of Austen’s life, as many of her personal letters and correspondence were destroyed by her sister after her death. Cassandra claimed this was to keep her sister’s biting humor and quick temper concealed from her relatives. However, it is clear that by 1801 Jane had already completed three of her novels. Then, there was a period of approximately ten years in which Jane stopped writing altogether. Why?
The accepted explanation is that in 1801 the Austen family relocated to Bath. It appears that Jane was unhappy with this decision and stopped writing. Her father died in 1805, which heralded a period of even greater domestic instability. The constant moving around evidently further disrupted her ability to write.
6. Some Believe Jane Austen Was Poisoned
Jane Austen died at the age of 41 on July 18, 1817. Historians have long attributed her death to either Addison’s disease—an endocrine disorder—or Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. However, in 2017 an alternative theory was proposed: that Austen had been poisoned by arsenic present in her drinking water as a result of either mismanaged medication or a polluted water supply. The evidence for this is that Jane Austen is said to have suffered from cataracts and skin discoloration, both signs of arsenic exposure. However, this theory has been criticized for its lack of substantial evidence, and it is argued that there is just as much proof to indicate that a disease caused her death.
The Importance of Proofreading and Editing
Austen is thought to have used the straight pin method to edit at least one of her works. This process entailed taking pins to her unfinished novel, The Watsons, and using them to secure revisions to pages that required correcting or rewriting.
Thankfully, authors no longer have to resort to such time-consuming and prickly ways of editing their manuscripts. Proofed’s talented editors will proofread and edit your novel, short story, or book and are available 24 hours a day. Submit a free sample to find out more!