|Portrait of Jane Austen, from the |
memoir by J. E. Austen-Leigh
Just to cover all of our bases before truly digging into this scholarly discussion, I think it might be helpful to begin by talking about who Jane Austen was. Unfortunately, the amount of information known for certain about the life of Jane Austen doesn’t amount to a lot. Jane Austen lived a quiet life. She was born in December of 1775, and due to an unknown illness which scholars have spent years speculating about with no discernible proof, she died in March of 1817 (Hindley). She grew up in a scholarly family, and when her father—a parson or member of the clergy in the small village of Steventon—learned of Jane’s talent for writing, he encouraged her to pursue the talent. Throughout her life, Jane Austen was not only a writer of stories, but she was also an avid writer of letters. It is the surviving letters sent between Jane and her sister Cassandra that have provided much of the information that scholars know of Jane Austen and her life today.
Though she began many of her well known stories earlier in her life, Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was not published until 1811 (Hindley). After the success of the novel, Jane Austen went on to write, revise, and publish the rest of her well-known novels over the following years that preceded her death. Though Jane Austen lived during the Georgian Period in England, the timeline of the publication of her famous novels falls within the early years of the Regency period. Therefore, in order to thoroughly explore this relationship between female authorship and readership in Jane Austen’s career, it will be most beneficial to analyze these roles with the context of the Regency period of England in mind.