Austen, Jane, the gifted English novelist, was born in 1775, at Steventon, in Hampshire, her father being rector of the parish. The story of her life is remarkable for its absolute lack of incident or variety. Twenty-six years were passed in the peaceful but dull parsonage at Steventon, with no greater distractions than the movements of a somewhat large family, the social gaieties of a rather out-of-the-way country place, and an occasional visit to friends in London or elsewhere. From her earliest years she had amused herself and the fireside circle at home by writing little sketches, thrown off spontaneously and without apparent effort. But neither she nor her friends took these literary tendencies as being of any serious value, and there was not a suspicion, as she sat at her tiny mahogany desk, filling page after page of manuscript amidst the talk and noise of the family party, that she was building up a reputation unrivalled by any Englishwoman up to her time. That her mind at this period was strongly influenced by Miss Burney, Richardson, and Miss Edgeworth can scarcely be doubted, but the originality of her own nature soon asserted itself. After completing a story, Elinor and Marianne, in the form of letters, with Evelina before her eyes as a model, she recast it entirely in the narrative style, and this work, under the title of Sense and Sensibility, appeared as her first published novel. Pride and Prejudice was composed about the same time, i.e. before her twenty-sixth year, and Northanger Abbey, in which she hits off with mild satire the productions of Mrs. Radcliffe, "Monk" Lewis, and the early sensational school, dates from the same period. None of these stories were written consciously for the press, and years elapsed before a line of Miss Austen's appeared in print. In 1801 her father migrated to Bath, and this change seems to have checked for a moment the progress of her literary enterprises. Perhaps, too, her ardour was damped by the failure to find a publisher for Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey. Certain it is that during the four years preceding Mr. Austen's death in 1805 she accomplished nothing more important than an unnamed and unfinished sketch, which never saw the light till 1871, when it was called The Watsons. From 1805 to 1809 with her mother and sister she took up her residence in Southampton, but the inspiration never revived during her stay there. At last a home was found in a pleasant cottage on her brother's estate at Chawton, in Hampshire, and her intellectual activity started anew. She had now reached the maturity of womanhood, her powers had developed themselves, her taste become more exacting, and possibly, too, she felt the spur of ambition. During the six years of vigorous life that were left to her she wrought out her three most masterly creations, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. In 1811 Sense and Sensibility came before the public, to be followed two years later by Pride and Prejudice. Her fame was at once established, and so far as the modesty of her character permitted it she enjoyed for a spell the delights of successful authorship, though she died before her reputation reached its zenith. The illness of her brother Henry and other family troubles seriously impaired her health in 1816. She had strength enough to bring Persuasion to a close, but not to see it through the press. In July of that year she completely broke down, and after lingering twelve months she died at Winchester in the arms of her devoted sister.
Miss Austen's writings have an indefinable charm which it is difficult to express in words. Her stories have little plot, and nothing stirring in the way of incident or adventure. The range of characters is extremely limited, and she introduces no digressions. Her aim is to show that the ordinary commonplace existence of cultivated people possesses sufficient interest in itself, if it be faithfully and delicately reproduced in language. But to few is given the art to effect this simple process as she effected it. No better description of her style can be given than her own comparison of her works to "a little bit of ivory two inches thick," on which she wrought "with a brush so fine as to produce little effect after much labour." Her life has been written by her nephew, Mr. Austen Leigh. and some of her letters have been edited by her relative, Lord Brabourne.