Jane Austen (1775-1817) was not especially well-known in her own day, but has subsequently become recognised as one of the foremost novelists in English. Her dry wit, sparkling characters and radical themes have endeared her novels and herself to millions, not least Winston Churchill.
GEORGE Austen, a rural clergyman in Steventon, Hampshire, was blessed with a family of six sons and two daughters.
His next-to-youngest child was Jane, whom he encouraged to write tales for the family’s entertainment. A busy round of relatives and parishioners provided plenty of material for her acute observation.
As a country Rector, George was a Gentleman but not wealthy. His wife’s relatives, the Leighs, were aristocracy, however, and two of Jane’s brothers rose to the rank of Admiral in the Navy; another, Henry, went into banking.
Jane welcomed such social mobility in Georgian England, and in her novels she criticised snobbish resistance to it.
Yet she was wary of it too. Her heroes and heroines embrace the change, but only by remaining people of old-fashioned good character, nurtured by close-knit families and traditional Christian morals.
This idyllic life in Steventon was interrupted by George’s retirement to Bath in 1800, but worse was to follow when, in 1805, Jane’s much-loved father died unexpectedly.