Austen's Life

Jane Austen Moves to Chawton

Jane, Cassandra, Mrs. Austen, and Martha Lloyd move to Chawton on July 7th, 1809. Edward made this living arrangement possible when he found a cottage near the manor which he lived in. The move to Chawton also makes it possible for Jane to finally begin her career as an established writer. During her time in Chawton she wrote Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. She also revised Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice for publication.

Publication of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey

In 1818, Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published together, posthumously, in a four-volume set. Northanger Abbey was initially submitted to the Richard Crosby & Co. publishing house in 1803 under the name Susan, and was one of the first of her novels to be sold. The company bought and advertised for the novel’s publication, but let it remained unpublished for years. Susan was renamed Catherine after Austen and her brother Henry bought back the manuscript in 1816, for which she wrote a preface explaining the previous issues with publication. 

Sense and Sensibility is published

While at the mercy of waiting for her publishers, Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra that, “No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S & S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child” (Chapman 114). This demonstrates the intense connection that Austen felt for her writing and the commitment and labor that went into her works. Patricia Meyer Spacks writes in the introduction to Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition that this metaphor underscores her awareness for her writing and the attention she gives it, while also showing that, “She knows that such a dependence will be temporary: a child does not suck forever. Soon her book will have independent existence” (4). This gives insight into Austen’s writing methods and signifies the care that went into her prose. 

The Publication of Emma in 1816

Jane Austen’s fourth novel, titled Emma, is the story of a woman during the eighteen century who found that she could fulfill the goals of friendship through marriage more so than through mere friendship itself. It takes place in Highbury, which exists in a fictional universe (Fig. 1) that intersects with real places such as Kingston, London and Hartfield. This novel took 14 months to write between January 21, 1814 and March 29, 1815, according to Cassandra, Austen's sister (Butler 1). Austen originally offered Emma in August or September of 1815 to John Murray and he agreed to publish both Emma and second editions of Mansfield Park on standard commission (Butler 1). Murray officially published Emma in 1816. Austen makes character Harriet Smith a weak version of the threatening strangers who enter the community in Mansfield Park (Butler 1). It is said by many writers, including Marilyn Butler and critic Laura E. Thomason of Middle Georgia State University, that Emma likely developed as a companion piece to Mansfield Park. 

First Impressions

First Impressions is an early version of Jane Austen’s well-known novel Pride and Prejudice and the first of her novels to be completed. She began writing the novel in October 1796 after visiting her brother Edward and his wife Elizabeth in Kent. Marilyn Butler in her biography of Austen suggests that the novel may have been written as “an instinctive reaction against Kent hauteur.” In August 1797 Jane finished the novel. 

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice is arguably the most important novel written by Jane Austen. Austen first started writing the novel in Rowling, Kent and it was eventually published in 1813. Jane Austen finished writing the novel in approximately 1797. The novel was originally titled First Impressions, but it was eventually renamed (Butler). Marilyn Butler states that the title of the novel changed due to other novels and portraits being published under the title “First Impressions” (Butler).

Austen Dies

In the last year of Jane Austen’s life, the author continued writing. Before she fell ill, she completed Persuasion in August of 1816 and wrote a preface for Northanger Abbey, explaining her last attempt to publish the novel. She also kept up with her letters to family and friends. In addition, Henry Austen (brother) gave back to Austen the authentic manuscript of ‘Susan’ (but renamed ‘Catherine’), although Austen declared that she wondered if she would ever take it off the shelf again. 

Austen sells her novel Susan for £10

Jane Austen’s novel Susan would become Northanger Abbey after several years of remaining unpublished, despite the fact that Austen’s brother, Henry, had sold the copyright of the novel to Benjamin Crosby, a publisher in London, for the price of 10 pounds. As time went on, it became apparent that Crosby had no intention of actually publishing the work, and after a long period of disputes, Crosby agrees to sell the copyright back to Austen for the original price of 10 pounds. Unable to afford the transaction, Austen dropped the dispute and continued her work on her novel The Watsons. 

Marriage Proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither

During her time living in Steventon, the Austens lived next to the Bigg-Wither family of Manydown. After moving away, Jane and her sister Cassandra returned to Manydown to visit their old friends and neighbors in the fall of 1802. Harris Bigg-Wither (21 years old at the time) proposed to Jane (who was almost 27) the evening of December 2, 1802 (Halperin 730). A few weeks short of her 27th birthday, Jane had no source of independent income and was relying heavily upon her brothers. In dire financial distress, Harris’ looming inheritance was, logically, very appealing, thus, Jane, “disappointed in love and still unpublished, had to accept him” (Halperin 731). Upon accepting the proposal, Jane “found she was miserable and that the place and the fortune which would certainly been his, could not alter the man:” consequentially, Jane changed her mind overnight and retracted her acceptance the following morning before she ran away from Manydown. (Halperin 730, Tomalin 263). 

Mansfield Park is Published

Mansfield Park was Jane Austen’s third novel, this has been said to be her most ambitious novels.  Austen started writing this novel in 1811 and finished writing it in 1813, she wrote this while living at the Chawton house (Butler). This is the most controversial of Austen’s novels, but some say that they can see where Austen might be going in later novels in this work.  By some this has also been referred to as a companion work to Emma.  This novel was based on the lives of the Steventon Austens. Jane Austen hoped that no one would realize the similarities between her characters and the people they were based on. This was first published by Thomas Egerton in 1814. This was a profitable novel for Austen, it is unknown what the original print run numbers were, but by November 1814 all of the copies were sold.  John Murray reached an agreement with Austen to publish the second edition of this novel on commission in 1816.