Jane Austen (1775-1817)

, novelist.

JANE AUSTEN, the daughter of an English clergyman, has become perhaps the best-known novelist of her generation, even though she was overshadowed at the time by contemporaries such as Sir Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Madame de Staël. While she began writing in childhood and wrote preliminary drafts of two of her mature novels during the 1790s, it was not until 1811, with the publication of Sense and Sensibility, that Austen launched her publishing career. She followed that with Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816). Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, her first and last completed novels, appeared posthumously in 1818. Austen did achieve modest literary success before her death:  the Prince Regent admired her work highly enough to invite her to dedicate Emma to him (which she did somewhat reluctantly), and Scott praised Austen’s fiction both publicly in The Quarterly Review and privately in his journal. Scott’s article for The Quarterly was, however, the only significant review that Austen received during her lifetime; she was not one of the very select few women novelists to be reviewed by The Edinburgh, though Jeffrey was reportedly ‘kept up three nights’ by Emma (1815). Her reputation began to climb in the 1820s and 1830s and ‘the novels of Miss Austin’ received favourable mention in an article Jeffrey wrote on Felicia Hemans in 1829 (ER 50:33). When in 1846 Jeffrey published his Contributions to the Edinburgh Review, he cited Austen as an ‘intrinsically original’ writer who had contributed to rescuing the novel from the ‘despicable’ and ‘degraded’ state to which he saw the genre as having sunk by the opening years of the nineteenth century (Jeffrey Contributions 3: 2).



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