"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Thus memorably begins Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice', one of the world's most popular novels. 'Pride and Prejudice' - Austen's own "darling child" - tells the story of fiercely independent Elizabeth Bennet, one of five sisters who must marry rich, as she confounds the arrogant, wealthy Mr. Darcy. What ensues is one of the most delightful and engrossingly readable courtships known to literature, written by a precocious Austen when she was just twenty-one years old. Humorous and profound, and filled with highly entertaining dialogue, this witty comedy of manners dips and turns through drawing rooms and plots to reach an immensely satisfying finale. In the words of Eudora Welty, 'Pride and Prejudice' is as "irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be."
The English novelist Jane Austen was born 16 December 1775, the seventh of eight children, in the Parsonage House of Steventon, Hampshire, where she spent her first twenty-five years. During her brief lifetime Austen witnessed political unrest, revolution, war, and industrialization, yet these momentous events are not the central subjects of her finely focused novels. Rather, Austen wrote of her immediate experience: the microcosm of the country gentry and its class-conscious insularity. Jane's father, the Reverend George Austen, was the erudite country rector of Steventon, and her mother, Cassandra (nee Leigh), was descended from an aristocratic line of learned clergymen. By no means wealthy, the Austens nonetheless enjoyed a comfortably, socially respectable life, and greatly prized their children's education.
Jane and her beloved elder (and only) sister, Cassandra, were schooled in Southampton and Reading for a short period, but most of their education took place at home. Private theatrical performances in the barn at Steventon complemented Jane's studies of French, Italian, history, music, and eighteenth-century fiction. An avid reader from earliest childhood, Jane began writing at age twelve, no doubt encouraged by her cultured and affectionate family. Indeed, family and writing were her great loves; despite a fleeting engagement in 1802, Austen never married. Her first two novels, "Elinor and Marianne" and "First Impressions", were written while at Steventon but never published in their original form.
Following her father's retirement, Jane moved in 1801 with her parents and sister to Bath. That popular watering hole, removed from the country life Jane preferred, presented the sociable young novelist with a wealth of observations and experience that would later emerge in her novels. Austen moved to Southampton with her mother and sister after the death of her father in 1805. Several years later the three women settled in Chawton Cottage in Hampshire, where Austen resided until the end of her life. She relished her return to the countryside and, with it, a renewed artistic vigor that led to the revision of her early novels, 'Sense and Sensibility', a reworking of 'Elinor and Marianne', was published in 1811, followed by 'Pride and Prejudice', a reworking of 'First Impressions', two years later.
Austen completed four more novels ('Mansfield Park', 'Emma', 'Northanger Abbey', and 'Persuasion') in the Chawton sitting room. Productive and discreet, she insisted that her work be kept secret from anyone outside the family. All of her novels were published anonymously, including the posthumous release, thanks to her brother Henry, of 'Northanger Abbey' and 'Persuasion'.
The last years of Austen's life were relatively quiet and comfortable. Her final, unfinished work, 'Sanditon', was put aside in the spring of 1817, when her health sharply declined and she was taken to Winchester for medical treatment of what appears to have been Addison's disease or a form of lymphoma. Jane Austen died there on 18 July 1817, and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.