Austen, Jane (1775-1817). English novelist, often regarded as the greatest of women novelists. The seventh child of a country parson, Jane Austen passed her days, like many an English lady of the time, almost entirely within her family circle. The only dramatic event of her life was an attachment to a clergyman who died before they could become engaged, but this was an obscure and doubtful episode, producing little outward change in her life. She never married; had no contact with London literary life; spent all her time, when not writing, on ordinary domestic duties, among her numerous nephews and nieces. Out of the materials of such a narrow world, precisely by sticking scrupulously to that narrow world, she made great literature. Her completed novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion, are distinguished by their satirical wit and brilliant comedy, complex and subtle view of human nature, exquisite moral discrimination, and unobtrusive perfection of style. These qualities elevate her little world of struggling clerical families, husband-hunting mothers and daughters, eligible clergymen and landowners, country fools and snobs, into an enduring microcosm of the great world.

The Reader’s Encyclopedia, Second Edition, by William Rose Benét (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1969), pp. 65-66.

Image: Watercolor of Jane Austen from the back by her sister Cassandra, 1804.

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