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Jane Austen

Born: Steventon, United Kingdom

Jane Austen wrote novels about life in the small villages and country houses of her native England. Today her works are considered classics of English literature.

Austen was born on December 16, 1775, in Steventon, Hampshire, where her father was a parson. As a child she wrote stories making fun of the fashionable novels of the day, in which ladies were very delicate. In Love and Friendship, which she wrote when she was 14, her two heroines "fainted alternately on the sofa."

The first of Austen's novels to be published was Sense and Sensibility, in 1811. Two years later came Pride and Prejudice. The Prince Regent (later King George IV) read Mansfield Park, which was published in 1814. He admired it so much that he asked the author to dedicate her next novel to him. Emma, with the royal dedication, was published in 1816. But Austen still did not sign her name to her novels. Some of her friends would talk to her about them without knowing she was the author.

In her novels she wrote about the kind of life she knew best —"three or four families in a country village" —instead of inventing colorful people and adventures. Yet within the limits of this subject area she examined universal human traits with great wit and insight. Sir Walter Scott, the famous historical novelist of Austen's time, wrote of her "exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting."

Although each of her heroines acquires a husband, Austen herself never married. She led a busy life, however, fitting in her writing among her many social and household activities. Often, she said, "Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb." She was often ill during the writing of her last novel, Persuasion, and she died in Winchester on July 18, 1817. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published the next year.

This biography was written by Juliet McMaster for Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. For more information on this online reference, visit Grolier Online .