At its September meeting the Club welcomed Maureen Stiller, the Secretary of the Jane Austen Society. Born in 1775 Jane Austen’s brief life of 41 years spanned the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, the American War of Independence, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the political chaos created by the precarious mental health of King George III.
Her father was the rector in the village of Steventon, Hampshire where she spent her first 25 years. Mainly schooled at home she spent only two brief periods at Oxford and Reading Ladies Boarding School. By the age of 11 Jane was back in Steventon where genteel and middle-class girls were intended only to be capable as married housekeepers and congenial companions.
Between the ages of 12 and 17 she wrote the 21 pieces, known collectively today as the Juvenilia. At the age of 20 she wrote her first major novel, Elinor and Marianne but it was not published until 14 years later as Sense and Sensibility. Aged 23 she wrote First Impressions, which was rejected but revised 16 years later and became her second published novel Pride and Prejudice. When 19 she wrote Lady Susan the only story in which the central character is deliberately and totally immoral. It was published in 1871, 54 years after her death, as Northanger Abbey.
In 1800 her father retired and the family moved to Bath. A far cry from the tranquil Hampshire countryside but she did find inspiration in visits to Sidmouth, Dawlish, Teignmouth and Lyme Regis. After her father’s death in 1805, the Austen ladies moved back to Hampshire, initially to Castle Square,Southampton and finally to the village of Chawton. It is clear that Jane was sensitive to places. These first three novels were all written in happy times at Steventon before the move to Bath. After the move to Chawton in 1809 her writing flourished again. She wrote three very different novels, Mansfield Park (1814) Emma (1815) and Persuasion (1817).
There are only two portraits that can be said with any certainty to be of her, both watercolours painted by her sister Cassandra. One, an unfinished and rather unflattering portrait, now hangs in the National Gallery. Family members said it was not a good likeness but it was used as the basis for a solid image commissioned in 1870 and can be seen on todays £10 note.