Jane Austen was born on the 16th December 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire. Her father was a vicar and her mother a vivacious, energetic housewife. She had five brothers and one sister, Cassandra, to whom she was particularly close. The Austens were never rich, but they were comfortably well off; they were also sociable, well-read and very fond of each other. By the time that she was sixteen Jane had already written copiously, mainly short comic pieces which were read aloud for the amusement of her family. By 1796 she had completed a first draft of an epistolary novel, Elinor and Marianne, which was to develop into Sense and Sensibility. This was followed by First Impressions, which would become Pride and Prejudice. Jane's father wrote to Cadell, a publishing house, to see whether they would be interested in publishing First Impressions, but they turned it down. Nevertheless, Austen did not lose faith in her abilities and began to re-write Elinor and Marianne.

In 1798 she began work on Northanger Abbey, at this stage called Susan, which was offered to the publisher Crosby in 1803. It was accepted, but mysteriously never appeared in print. By this time the family had moved to Bath; they were also travelling around England between 1800 and 1804. At some point in these travels Austen met Tom Lefroy and they fell in love, but were never to marry.

At the end of 1804 Austen lost her father; and in 1806 the family left Bath. Austen was delighted to go; she had never liked Bath. Until 1809 the Austens lived in Southampton, near Jane's eleven nieces and nephews from her brother's marriage. Edward's wife had died and Jane and Cassandra became surrogate mothers to the children. Their intimacy continued when Mrs. Austen with Jane and Cassandra moved again in 1809 to Chawton in Hampshire where Jane lived until her death in 1817. After this point her career advanced rapidly: she revised Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, which were published in 1811 and 1813 respectively. By the time that Pride and Prejudice was published Austen was already at work on Mansfield Park, which was published in 1814. Emma followed in 1816. By this time her work was being favourably reviewed in the press. Austen continued to live quietly at Chawton, writing discreetly in between visits from friends and relations and occasional trips to London. Persuasion, her last completed novel, was begun in 1815, but advanced slowly due to her brother Henry's illness and then her own. It was finished by March 1817 and followed by the first eleven chapters of Sanditon. Austen never recovered from her illness and died in July 1817. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously.

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