The year was 1787. Delegates were gathering up in Philadelphia to draw up the US constitution, Russia had declared war on Turkey, and an 11-year-old Jane Austen had just begun writing poems and stories for her family’s entertainment. Years later, somewhere around 1796, Austen wrote her first full-length novel, Elinor and Marianne, which was published in 1811 as Sense and Sensibility. The book was published anonymously, with the cover simply stating, ‘By a Lady’, and was well received. Little did she know how big her impact would be on the literary world, and how her legacy would be kept alive years after her death.
Jane Austen’s name and her work is still popular and influential, and known by many. Born in 1775, Austen remains a mysterious figure to the public. The primary reason for this being the burning of the many letters written by her, by her sister Cassandra. This was done to prevent any embarrassment because of the merciless and witty tone of her letters, though some fragments of those letters are still preserved. She was the seventh child in a family of eight. Austen had a near-death experience when she suffered from typhus when sent to Oxford. After her recovery, she was sent to a boarding school in Reading but returned due to the exorbitant fees which had to be paid, and never again left her immediate family environment.
In 1787, Austen began writing, mainly focusing on poems and stories. These were written purely for her and her family’s entertainment, and she had no intention of publishing them. It is estimated that she wrote 3 plays during her teen years. At the age of eighteen, Austen began working on Lady Susan, an epistolary novel written in the form of letters. This wasn’t published until 1871 and has been described as Austen’s most advanced early form of work. After finishing Lady Susan, Austen’s first full-length novel was written. It was initially written under the name Elinor and Marriane but was later changed to Sense and Sensibility. Though it was well-received, Austen’s best and most well-known book was Pride and Prejudice. Set in rural England in the early 19th century, it starts with one of the most iconic lines in literature, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” It has been cited as an influential text and is a beloved book in the eyes of readers and scholars, even 200 years after its publication.
Austen’s work and style of writing were unique. She is known for creating fierce, independent and strong female leads, who are capable of identifying their flaws and correcting them. Her work also interprets and criticises the British aristocrats and the upper class, and deals with economic and class distinctions. In a time like the 1800s, where women were discouraged from writing and publishing books, and many female authors took up male pseudonyms for the publication of their work, Austen was seen as a rebel. She chose not to take on a male pseudonym, and simply published her work under the pen name, “A Lady.” By not marrying, she challenged the notion that a woman without a husband wasn’t capable of supporting herself. Austen has been named as a feminist icon by many.
Since publishing Pride and Prejudice, Austen has written many novels, which include Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion. Several adaptations of her work in the form of movies and shows have come up. Her books are studied in prestigious universities around the world, and her work has been appreciated by many scholars and philosophers. Though she may have died in 1817, the witty Jane Austen and her work remain timeless, and never fail to fascinate the new generations.