Jane Austen was born on the 16th of December 1775. To mark the anniversary of her birthday, let’s uncover some interesting, yet less well-known, facts about the English novelist.
Jane was the seventh of eight children, with six brothers and one older sister whom she was especially close to. Despite many of Austen’s characters sharing similar traits to their creator, their family make-up is noticeably different as only two of her leading ladies have older brothers.
Austen’s first four novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma were originally published anonymously. Sense and Sensibility, which was initially titled Elinor and Marianne was signed off “By a Lady” whilst Pride and Prejudice was signed “By the author of Sense and Sensibility”. When Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published together in 1817, Austen’s brother Henry included a biographical note which identified his sister as the author of all four works.
Like her characters, Austen believed that a woman should not get married for anything other than love. In 1802, she had briefly accepted a marriage proposal from one Harris Bigg-Wither, but, the following day, withdrew her acceptance. She is quoted as having told her niece, Fanny Knight, that “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection”. Neither Jane, nor her sister Cassandra, ever married.
In 1995, Jane Austen was named ‘Writer of the Year’ as many of the film and television adaptations of her work were released that year. As well as the popular film version of Sense and Sensibility, written by and starring Emma Thompson, and the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice series featuring Colin Firth, Austen’s works have also inspired Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, the film Clueless, and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.
Despite her fame today, Austen earned nothing until she was 36 years old. She began to earn a little income from her writing when Sense and Sensibility was published but, when she died, she had less than £800 to her name. According to Jane Austen expert Claire Tomalin, Austen’s average income from her writing over the 15 years she worked for was around £40 per year, significantly less than the £55 poverty line at the time.
Austen was a little known author during her lifetime, and she didn’t become a household name until the Victorian era, but her life and work is now worth a significant amount of money. Many of Austen’s original manuscripts have been destroyed but a fragment of the original copy of her unfinished novel The Watsons, was sold to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library in 2011 for £1 million. Then, in 2012, American singer Kelly Clarkson purchased a ring belonging to Austen for £152,450 at an auction. The incident caused quite an uproar as the culture secretary at the time put an immediate ban on the export of the ring, forcing Clarkson to withdraw her ownership and let the ring remain in the UK. In 2017, Austen became the first female writer to appear on British currency – her portrait can be found on the £10 note.
To learn more about Jane Austen and her work visit the Jane Austen.com website.