JANE AUSTEN was born on December 16, 1775 at Steventon near Basingstoke, the seventh child of the rector of the parish. She lived with her family at Steventon until they moved to Bath when her father retired in 1801. After his death in 1805, she moved around with her mother; in 1809 they settled in Chawton, near Alton, Hampshire. Here she remained, except for a few visits to London, until in May 1817 she moved to Winchester to be near her doctor.
Jane Austen was extremely modest about her own genius, describing her work to her nephew Edward as "That little bit (two inches wide) of ivory, in which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labor." As a girl she wrote stories, including burlesques of popular romances. Her works were only published after much revision, four novels being published during her lifetime. Sense And Sensibility (1811), the story of two sisters and their love affairs; Pride And Prejudice (1813), the most popular of her novels, dealing with the five Bennett sisters and their search for suitable husbands; both Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816) deal with the romantic entanglements of their strongly characterized heroines. Two other novels, Northanger Abbey, a satire on the highly popular Gothic romances of the 18th century, and Persuasion, were published posthumously in 1818 with a biographical notice by her brother, Henry Austen, the first formal announcement of her authorship. Persuasion was written in a race against failing health in 1815-16. Austen died on July 18, 1817, in Winchester, and she was buried in its cathedral. Several incomplete works were published long after Austen's death. These include The Watsons (1923), Fragment of a Novel (1925), and Plan of a Novel (1926).
The works of Jane Austen, not popular until the 20th century, are very different in style from the romanticism favored by her contemporaries. With trenchant observation and in meticulous detail, she presented the quiet, day-to-day country life of the upper-middle-class English. Her characteristic theme was that maturity is achieved through the loss of illusions. Faults of character displayed by the people of her novels are corrected when, through tribulation, lessons are learned. Even the most minor characters are vividly particularized in Austen's lucid style. Her sensitivity to universal patterns of human behavior has caused Austen to be regarded by many critics as one of the greatest of all novelists.