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About Jane Austen

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Jane Austen was born December 16th, 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire, England (near Basingstoke). She was the seventh child (out of eight) and the second daughter (out of two), of the Rev. George Austen, 1731-1805 (the local rector, or Church of England clergyman), and his wife Cassandra, 1739-1827 (nйe Leigh). (See the silhouettes of Jane Austen's father and mother, apparently taken at different ages.) He had a fairly respectable income of about Ј600 a year, supplemented by tutoring pupils who came to live with him, but was by no means rich (especially with eight children), and (like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice) couldn't have given his daughters much to marry on.

More than one reader has wondered whether the childhood of the character Catherine Morland in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey might not reflect her own childhood, at least in part -- Catherine enjoys "rolling down the green slope at the back of the house" and prefers cricket and baseball to girls' play.

In 1783, Jane and her older sister Cassandra went briefly to be taught by a Mrs. Cawley (the sister of one of their uncles), who lived first in Oxford and then moved to Southampton. They were brought home after an infectious disease broke out in Southampton. In 1785-1786 Jane and Cassandra went to the Abbey boarding school in Reading, which apparently bore some resemblance to Mrs. Goddard's casual school in Emma. (Jane was considered almost too young to benefit from the school, but their mother is reported to have said that "if Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too".) This was Jane Austen's only education outside her family. Within their family, the two girls learned drawing, to play the piano, etc. (See "Accomplishments" and Women's Education.)

Jane Austen did a fair amount of reading, of both the serious and the popular literature of the day (her father had a library of 500 books by 1801, and she wrote that she and her family were "great novel readers, and not ashamed of being so"). However decorous she later chose to be in her own novels, she was very familiar with eighteenth century novels, such as those of Fielding and Richardson, which were much less inhibited than those of the later (near-)Victorian era. She frequently reread Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison, and also enjoyed the novels of Fanny Burney (a.k.a. Madame D'Arblay). She later got the title for Pride and Prejudice from a phrase in Burney's Cecilia, and when Burney's Camilla came out in 1796, one of the subscribers was "Miss J. Austen, Steventon". The three novels that she praised in her famous "Defense of the Novel" in Northanger Abbey were Burney's Cecilia and Camilla, and Maria Edgeworth's

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