Jane Austen, who died on July 18, 1817, aged 41, was an English novelist whose seven novels look at the marriage and courting habits of the British upper classes.
It was a time when a woman's future was utterly dependent on finding a husband of some social standing and means; the alternative was staying in your parents' home as a spinster daughter.
Austen, the daughter of a parson, failed to marry, although when she was 20, she met a young Irish lawyer-in-training called Tom Lefroy whom she wrote affectionately about in letters to her older sister Cassandra. But he had no money to live on and nothing came of the attraction.
Her most famous novels were Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), although Austen was not named and their authorship was ascribed to “A Lady”.
Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were published posthumously in 1818 and, for the first time, she was identified as the author. A seventh novel, Lady Susan, was published in 1871.
She died in straitened circumstances in Winchester, and is buried in Winchester Cathedral.
There have been many adaptations of her work, including prequels and sequels. Her work has adapted well to the big and small screen, starting with the MGM production of Pride and Prejudice in 1940 starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. In 1995 Emma Thompson won an Academy Award for her role in Sense and Sensibility. Gwyneth Paltrow starred in the 1996 film Emma. - Books Editor