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Jane Austen

            Jane Austen, whom some critics consider England's best novelist, was born in 1775 in Steventon, England. The seventh of eight children, Austen lived with her parents for her entire life, first in Steventon and later in Bath, Southampton, and Chawton. Her father was the village rector, and, though not wealthy, her family was well connected and well educated. Austen briefly attended boarding school in Reading but received the majority of her education at home. According to rumor, she had a brief love affair when she was twenty-five, but it did not lead to a marriage proposal. Two years later she accepted and then quickly rejected a proposal of marriage. She remained unmarried for the rest of her life. Austen died in 1817, at age forty-one, from Addison's disease. .
             Austen began writing stories at a very young age and completed her first novel in her early twenties. However, she did not publish until 1811, when Sense and Sensibility appeared anonymously, followed by Pride and Prejudice (1813) and Mansfield Park (1814). Emma, which appeared in 1816, was the last novel published during Austen's lifetime. (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion appeared posthumously.) .
             Austen's identity as a novelist was not revealed until after her death, and her novels received little critical or popular recognition during her lifetime. As admired as Austen's novels later became, critics have had a difficult time placing them within literary history. She is known for her gently satirical portraits of village life and the rituals of courtship and marriage, but she wrote during the Romantic period, when most major writers were concerned with a very different set of interests and values. Romantic poets confronted the hopes and failures of the French Revolution and formulated new literary values centered on individual freedom, passion, and intensity. In comparison, Austen's detailed examination of the rules of decorum that govern social relationships, and her insistence that reason and moderation are necessary checks on feeling, make her seem out of step with the literary times.

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