Persuasion: Biography

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Jane Austen was born at Steventon Rectory in Hampshire, England, on December 16, 1775. Her parents, Reverend George Austen and Cassandra Leigh Austen, had seven other children: James, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, Francis, George, and Charles. Jane was the seventh child (Charles was the eighth) and, being only the second girl, she was particularly close to her older sister.

After a short time in a boarding school at Reading, Jane and her sister continued their education at home, in a household filled with books, writing, reading aloud, play-acting, and conversation. As a young girl, Jane wrote down stories, plays, and poems in bound notebooks, and as a teen she penned a parody of romantic fiction that she called Love andFreindship [sic], as well as a parody of historical writing called The History of England.Her writing, even at a young age, was characterized by wit and irony. As the daughter of a gentleman, Jane’s life consisted of helping her mother run the household, attending her father’s church, cultivating ladylike pursuits such as drawing and piano playing, and socializing with families in the neighborhood. She particularly loved dancing and attended the country dances and neighborhood balls with relish.

It was in this social realm that Jane reportedly fell in love with Tom Lefroy, a young man visiting in the neighborhood in December 1795, when Jane was twenty. However, the romance was thwarted when Tom’s family disapproved of his match with Jane, who had little to no dowry to offer him.

In 1795, Jane composed a novel she called Lady Susan, as well as another called Elinor and Marianne. In October 1796, she began First Impressions, which she finished in August 1797. Jane’s father offered First Impressions to the publisher Thomas Cadell in London, but that firm refused to publish it. Not giving up on becoming an author, Jane revised Elinor and Marianne, and she wrote a new novel, Susan, in 1798/99.

When Jane was twenty-seven, her father retired from the clergy and Jane, her mother, and her father left the rural beauty of Hampshire for the bustle and noise of Bath, where Jane was never happy. Her father died in 1805, leaving her and her mother in financial crisis. For four years, Jane, Cassandra, and their mother had no permanent home, living with various family members, until her brother Edward gave them a cottage on his estate in Chawton in 1809. Jane then wrote a new novel, Mansfield Park, and in 1811 she published her first novel, Sense and Sensibility (formerly Elinor and Marianne). Her earlier novel First Impressions was published as Pride and Prejudice in 1813, and Mansfield Park in 1814. Emma was published in 1815, the same year Austen began Persuasion.

Austen was never to see Persuasion published, however. She became ill in 1816 with what is thought to be Addison’s disease, and she died on July 18, 1817, and was buried at Winchester Cathedral. Persuasion and an earlier novel, Northanger Abbey (Susan), were posthumously published later that year.

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