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13 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen

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Sarah S. Davis

Staff Writer

Sarah S. Davis holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's of Library Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sarah has also written for Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Psych Central, and more. Sarah is the founder of Broke By Books blog and runs a tarot reading business, Divination Vibration. Twitter: @missbookgoddess Instagram: @Sarahbookgoddess

Who doesn’t think they know Jane Austen? The beloved author of some of the most acclaimed novels ever published in English, Austen is everywhere. But do you really know all there is to know about Jane Austen? In this list of Jane Austen facts, you’ll get a refresher on her biography, along with interesting tidbits about her life and work. By the end of this list of Austen fun facts, you’ll know more about the praised author and her legacy. Ready? Let’s begin!

Austen Is Born

1) Austen was a textbook Sagittarius.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, in Steventon rectory in Hampshire, which makes her a Sagittarius. Some traits that Sagittarius people share are being deeply emotional, intellectual, optimistic, straightforward and creative.

Austen was born a month later than expected. Because the winter of 1776 was unusually cold, Austen wasn’t baptized until April of that year. Austen has no middle name; she was baptized with just her first name, “Jane.”

With six brothers and a beloved sister named Cassandra (“Cassie”), Austen was the baby of the family.

Early Influences

2) A young Austen was influenced by theater comedies.

While her family lived on an extremely modest income, Austen found joy in dances, debate, and reading novels — including her own — to the house in the evening.

Theatre was important to Austen. The family often hosted drama shows with friends. Austen especially enjoyed comedies. It’s not hard to guess that her love of comedies led to a love of satire that would anticipate her own novels. As a teenager, Austen penned three plays of her own.

Emerging Author

3) Austen’s “juvenilia,” or earliest writing, consisted of 90,000 words of poetry, stories, and novels. 

The early drafts of her writing are collected in three notebooks and consist of 90,000 words. Austen penned an epistolary novel called Love and Freindship (sic), a satire of the trend of sensibility in fiction, in 1790 when she was just 14. Austen became dedicated to writing as a career by age 18 and experimented with writing drama and works of greater length.

Austen often wrote scraps and story fragments for her nieces as presents, a practice she continued into 1811*.

From Rough Scraps to Full Drafts

4) From 1795 to 1798, Austen wrote first drafts of what would later become her most beloved published novels. 

Austen wrote the epistolary novel Lady Susan between 1793 and 1795. An early draft of Sense and Sensibility had the working name of Elinor and Marianne. Pride and Prejudice was known as First Impressions.

In 1798, Austen finished revisions on Elinor and Marianne and began work on Susan, which would later be known as Northanger Abbey, a satirical story that spoofed the Gothic novel. 

Publishing Woes

5) Austen’s father, George, believed in her so much that he tried to get her work published himself.

He wrote unsuccessfully to a London publisher to see if he would entertain the idea of publishing First Impressions.

George again tried to get the novel Susan (later known as Northanger Abbey) published and succeeded in selling the copyright to publisher Benjamin Crosby, who never released the novel.

Frustrated that Susan remained unpublished, Austen tried in 1809 to get the copyright Susan back from Crosby. Her family finally secured the rights by buying back the copyright in 1816.

Flirtations With Love

6) Jane Austen’s heroines had more luck in love than she did.

At age 20, starting in December 1895, Austen had a flirtation with neighbor Tom Lefroy. 

Lefroy was a recent college grad headed to London to train as a lawyer. Both lacking money, Lefroy and Austen didn’t move forward with their mutual attraction. Lefroy was sent away by family in January 1896 who disapproved of the match, and Austen never saw him again. 

Austen received her only known marriage proposal in December 1802 from Harris Bigg-Wither, the son of family friends whom Austen had known for years. While initially Austen accepted, the next morning she withdrew her acceptance. Why she changed her mind is still unknown.

Emerging Author

7) Austen published four successful novels in just a few short years.

Austen sold Pride and Prejudice for the copyright, but her other books were sold “on commission,” meaning she needed to outsell the publication costs through sales to reach a profit.  

Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 and quickly sold out by 1813. The book gathered favorable reviews from The Critical Review and others. The book earned Austen £140.

Following the pattern for female authors, Austen sold all of the books to be published anonymously, attributed to “By a Lady,” but after the success of her debut, the author was credited as “By the author of Sense and Sensibility.”

Pride and Prejudice was published in January 1813. The book again received positive reviews and sold well. Austen’s decision to sell the copyright for £110 likely left her with far less money than the book would have earned if sold on commission. The book came into a second publication run by the end of the year.

Austen published Mansfield Park in May 1814. The novel became Austen’s bestselling and most lucrative work in her lifetime. The novel was completely sold out in just six months.

Emma was published in December 1815. While Emma was popular, it would be the last novel published while Austen was alive.

8) George IV, the Prince Regent, was a big Austen fan.

The Prince had all of her works at each of his homes. In November 1815, his librarian, James Stanier Clarke, invited Austen to visit the Prince in London and encouraged her to dedicate her next novel, Emma, to him. Austen personally did not care for the Prince but didn’t feel like she could refuse the suggestion, and so she complied.

Later Life and Legacy

9) Austen died in 1817 but the cause is of death is still unknown.

Starting in early 1816, Austen began to suffer from illness that interfered with her work, though she still pressed on with her writing. Austen’s illness is not confirmed, with some speculating she suffered from Addison’s disease while others attribute her condition to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Still other theories have it that Austen was poisoned by arsenic.

Austen finished a first draft of Persuasion in July 1816, but the book remained unpublished during Austen’s lifetime.

Austen’s condition worsened, and she was taken to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there on July 18, 1817. Austen was 41 years old.

Austen was buried in the nave of Winchester Cathedral with the epitaph celebrating the “extraordinary endowments of her mind.”  


10) Austen’s work continued to be published after her death.

In 1817, Austen’s family worked to get Northanger Abbey and Persuasion sold as a set. Austen’s brother Henry penned a “biographical note” identifying Austen as the author. The books sold well.

In 1832, publisher Richard Bentley purchased the copyrights for Austen’s novels and published an omnibus edition of her work in October 1833. Austen’s books have remained continuously in print since Bentley’s publication.

Austen was a prolific letter writer who penned as many as 3,000 letters. However, only 161 of these have survived after her sister Cassandra destroyed and/or censored the majority of Austen’s letters in the 1840s, hoping to avoid sensational details from tarnishing Austen’s reputation.

11) Austen’s reputation grew after her death.

An 1823 letter to the editor of The Lady’s Magazine used Austen as a character, marking the first Jane Austen fan fiction. The letter writer alleges to want to know more about being a successful writer and consults the ghost of Jane Austen for tips.

Harvard University holds the first dissertation on Austen, which was called “Jane Austen’s Novels” and was published in 1883 by George Pellew.

Austen appears on the £10 note or a “tenner,” issued in 2017.

12) Austen’s work has been ripe for adaptation.

The first film adaptation of Austen’s work was 1940’s Pride and Prejudice, released by MGM and starring Lawrence Olivier and Greer Garson.

Emma Thomspon won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for director Ang Lee’s 1995 film Sense and Sensibility, in which she also starred.

13) Austen fans are known as “Janeites.”

Alternately, some fans call themselves “Austenites” or even “Darcyholics” Which are you?

For more all things Austen, check out Book Riot’s coverage:

*From Jane Austen: A Family Record by William Austen-Leigh, Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, and Deirdre Le Faye.