This week (October 24-31) in English literary history – Henry Fielding became justice of the peace (October 25, 1748); Henry James and Edith Wharton begin corresponding (October 26, 1900); Sylvia Plath was born (October 27, 1932); George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” was performed on New York (October 28, 1905); Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility” was published (October 30, 1811); Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” was published (October 31, 1892)
Highlighted Story of the Week -
On October 30, 1811, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was published anonymously. A small circle of people, including the Price Regent, learned Austen’s identity, but most of the British public knew only that the popular book had been written “by a Lady.” Austen was born on December 16, 1775 in Steventon, a country village in Hampshire, England. She was very close to her older sister, Cassandra, who remained her faithful editor and critic throughout her life. The girls had five years of formal schooling, then studied with their father. Jane read voraciously and began writing stories as young as age 12, completing an early novella at age 14.
Austen’s quiet, happy world was disrupted when her father retired to Bath in 1801. Jane hated the resort town but amused herself by making close observations of ridiculous society manners. After her father’s death in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister lived with one of her brothers until 1808, when another brother provided them a permanent home at Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire.
Jane concealed her writing from most of her acquaintances, slipping her writing paper under a blotter when someone entered the room. Though she avoided society, she was charming, intelligent, and funny. She rejected at least one proposal of marriage. She published several more novels before her death, including Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). She died on July 18, 1817 in Winchester, England at age 42, of what today is thought to be Addison’s disease.
Check back every Friday for a new installment on the lives of the great writers of English literature
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that includes the gold medal winning Literary Legends of the British Isles: The Lives and Burial Places of 50 Great Writers and the upcoming release of America’s Literary Legends: The Lives and Burial Places of 50 Great Writers (January 2015).