“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” This is the first line of Jane Austen’s most popular novel, Pride and Prejudice. Today, virtually everyone knows who Jane Austen is thanks to the workings of Hollywood. With such actors as Emma Thompson’s heartwarming rendition of Elinor Dashwood in the movie version of Sense and Sensibility, Gwyneth Paltrow’s brilliant depiction of the wealthy, but clueless, EmmaEmma Woodhouse in the movie adaptation of , Colin Firth’s poignant portrayal of the prejudiced Fitzwilliam Darcy in the BBC production of Pride & Prejudice, and Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Jane herself in Becoming Jane, Austen’s works have seeped into mainstream society.
If Austen were alive today, she would be pleased to see just how popular her works have become. Born on December 16, 1775, to a country clergyman and his wife, who was from minor gentry, Jane was the seventh of eight children from the small rural village of Steventon, England. She was an enthusiastic reader from the time she was a small child. Even at an early age she showed remarkable comic talent. This talent would later play a major role in her novels’ popularity.
In her lifetime Austen completed seven novels: Lady Susan, her first and only attempt at an epistolary novel; Sense and Sensibility; Pride and Prejudice; Mansfield Park; Emma; Persuasion; and Northanger Abbey, her only Gothic novel. She also had two unfinished works, The Watsons and Sanditon. The Watsons was abandoned after her father’s death as Jane couldn’t bare the painful reminder that this was the novel she was working on when her father died.
Sanditon was the novel Jane was working on at the time of her death. Jane’s own mother was something of a hypochondriac, and as a critic once noted, “maybe Sanditon was a final irony at her mother’s expense.” Tragically, Jane would never complete this work. On July 18, 1817 at the age of 42, Jane Austen died of Addison’s, a debilitating disease that attacks the kidneys. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral where she traveled from Chawton, a few weeks earlier, to be closer to her physician.
In her lifetime, Jane Austen earned approximately 700 pounds for her novels and celebrated only minor fame. She never married or had a family of her own, but she always referred to her novels as the children she never had. More than one hundred and ninety years have passed since her death, and Hollywood has taken her beloved children and transformed them into household names.