Despite having such a devoted fan base, Jane Austen’s life is shrouded in mystery. She was an unusual woman for her time, holding firm to her values. She believed in love matches; her stories are full of unlikely couples, yet she remained unmarried.
We don’t have much correspondence from which to learn her thoughts. Following the custom of the time, Jane’s sister Cassandra burned many letters after the author’s death.
Fortunately, not all was lost with those yellowing pages. Enough history remains to offer us a satisfying portrait.
Here are five surprising facts about Jane Austen.
1- She Enjoyed Gothic Novels
It’s not surprising that Jane Austen was well-read. She spent hours in the family library immersed in classics such as Shakespeare.
As always, literary tastes at the time were changing; she also enjoyed reading then-popular Gothic novels.
Her favorite authors included Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe, and Maria Edgeworth. Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho was mentioned in Jane’s novel Northanger Abbey as one of Catherine Morland’s favorite books.
Want to learn more about which books Jane read? Here is a list!
2- Jane Austen Hated School
The Austens were unique in their belief that education was important for all children, not only boys.
Jane and her sister Cassandra attended boarding school as young girls. Jane was only seven when she first left home to study. There is speculation about why she left at such a tender age. Some think it was because she could not bear separation from her sister.
They attended Mrs. Cawley’s boarding school for girls, where they were taught sewing and French. Jane would later write about her time at school as a torment.
3- She Was Engaged—for a Night
On December 2, 1802, Jane accepted a marriage proposal from family friend Harris Bigg-Wither. The Bigg-Wither family owned a large estate; marriage to him would ensure Jane’s happy retirement.
The following morning, she’d changed her mind. She called off the engagement, a choice that perplexed everybody–she wasn’t getting any younger.
Why did Jane choose spinsterhood over a comfortable home? We know that she believed people ought to marry for love; perhaps that was her reason.
I found this article about Harris Bigg-Wither interesting.
4- Charlotte Brontë Wasn’t a Fan
There has been a rumor circulating that Charlotte Brontë’s classic Jane Eyre was inspired Austen’s character Jane Fairfax in Emma. This article criticizes the rumor, but it doesn’t deny that Brontë wasn’t a fan.
One can hardly blame her, seeing the big picture. Rare were female authors brave enough to publish with their names. They were generalized as lady authors, and Brontë was tired of being lumped in with Austen when their novels were so different.
I’m thankful that there is now room for different kinds of lady authors. It’s possible for us to write light-hearted romance or Gothic pieces–whatever we please!
5- Austen’s Last Piece was a Poem
Many famous authors have died and left novels unfinished. Jane Austen left two books unfinished—Sanditon and The Watsons—but her last complete work seems to have been a poem.
Titled Venta, it was dictated to Cassandra three days before Jane’s death. It’s a satirical piece about the people of Winchester, poking fun at their fervor for horse races. Jane wrote that they cared more for the races than they did for their patron saint, St. Swithin.
Various poems by Jane Austen can be found here.
It’s always fascinating to do research about the lives of famous authors. This little post does not begin to cover Jane Austen’s life, but I hope it taught you something new!