Dec 052012

Our Regency Personage for December was born in December

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775. She was the seventh of eight children and only the second daughter. Her father was a clergyman.

Her oldest brother was James who became a clergyman like their father.

The second brother was George about whom not much is known. It is thought that he was deaf because Jane knew how to “speak with her fingers.” Some say he had other problems and might have been a Down’s syndrome child. George lived in a private home with a caretaker all his life.

When rich cousins wanted to take one of the Austen boys and make him their heir, Edward was chosen.

Edward went on a grand tour.

Henry was the next brother. He went into the militia and became a banker. When that failed , he entered the church. He never received the preferences James had.

Cassandra, Jane’s beloved sister came next and then Francis.

Francis went into the navy at an early age , eventually rising to become an admiral.

Jane was born next.

Charles brought up the rear. He went into the navy and also rose to be an admiral.

The fate of the boys was determined rather early to our way of thinking.

James went off to university at fourteen while Frank and Charles went into the navy when they were twelve or so.

Except for two years away at school with her sister Cassandra, Jane lived with her family all her life.

Portrait of Jane Austen, from the memoir by J....

Portrait of Jane Austen, from the memoir by J. E. Austen-Leigh. All other portraits of Austen are generally based on this, which is itself based on a sketch by Cassandra Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jane was an intelligent , bright child and started writing early. One of her first works was A History of England. Much of her youthful efforts are collected in Minor works and Love and Freindship. [sic] These and her Lady Susan show a different side of Jane Austen than is usually shown in her novels. No one who read her L & F or Lady Susan could ever think of Austen as a sweet, little tea drinking aunt.

Many explanations have been given for why Jane Austen had her first novel published as “by a Lady” instead of using her own name. None of the explanations given are completely convincing. Miss Edgewood and Miss Burney and even Miss Hannah More and Mrs. Charlotte Smith published books under their own name.

It could be that Jane Austen shrank from a public awareness that she was an author. Her family knew and it was her brother Henry who somehow let her secret be known to the Prince Regent. Fortunately the Regent didn’t know Jane’s personal opinion of him.

She was invited to visit his library in Carlton House and given permission to dedicate her next book to him. That happened to be Emma.

Henry married their cousin Eliza and lived in London where Jane visited them. Henry and Eliza could have introduced Jane to a literary society and arranged for her to meet other authors, but Jane does not appear to have been interested.
When Mr. Austen retired from being an active clergyman, the girls and their parents moved to Bath. This was a change after the quiet of their home village.

Much has been made of the fact that we know of no writing Jane did during this time. However, it is more than likely that she was gathering information, doing her research by watching people. After her father died, she, her sister, and mother moved around a bit until Edward was in a position to offer them a choice of two homes. They chose Chawton cottage and it was there that Jane wrote, revised, and created her masterpieces.

Four of her novels were published in her lifetime.  NorthangerAbbey and Persuasion were published together with a Memoir after her death.

Jane’s books were not best sellers. She didn’t make a fortune from her writing. I think it is said that she made a bit over 700 pounds in all. She labored under the handicap of being a complete unknown and some of the quirks of the publishing business in her day.

Though almost all of the magazines of her day carried a listing of new books and ads for new publications were even found in the newspapers, an author had to pretty much do her own advertising. Then, just as now, an author usually let it be known in family and other circles that a book was due. Quite often an author even had people subscribe. The author then paid for the publication from this money and was able to keep almost all the money made from sales for herself.

Considering that Jane didn’t do anything to promote her books, and died before she could build much of a following, that £ 750 doesn’t look so meager after all.

  One Response to “Jane Austen ~ Regency Promenade by Nancy Mayer”

  1. I find it tragic that she died without knowing what a legacy she would leave behind and that, over a hundred years after he death, she would have so many fans.

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