Jane Austen's 200th death anniversary: 6 things you may not have known about Pride & Prejudice author

A first edition of Pride and Prejudice is seen at the Jane Austen House in Chawton, southern England January 24, 2013.
A first edition of Pride and Prejudice is seen at the Jane Austen House in Chawton, southern England January 24, 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS

British novelist Jane Austen may have died on July 18, 1817, 200 years ago, but her witty satires and biting critique of 19th-century English country life continue to mesmerise multitudes today in print and on screen.

Austen, whose novels include Sense And Sensibility (1811), Pride And Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815), died aged 41 from an unconfirmed illness widely thought to be Addison's disease.

On the 200th anniversary of her death, here are some things the uninitiated Austenite might wish to know about the reclusive Regency author.

1. Early start

Austen began writing when she was 11 or 12, mostly in the comic vein. As a teenager, she penned a parody of textbook histories, The History of England, by "a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian", as well as an epistolary tale, the misspelled Love & Freindship, a parody of the romance novels popular at the time.

2. Ten-pound novel

Austen sold her first novel, the Gothic satire Susan, for £10 (S$17.91) in 1803 to a London bookseller, who decided not to publish it and sold it back years later. After her death, her brother Henry retitled it Northanger Abbey and published it posthumously.


Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, standing alongside the concept design for the new Bank of England ten pound banknote, featuring author Jane Austen. PHOTO: AFP

Fittingly, the Bank of England will on Tuesday (July 18) unveil the new plastic Jane Austen £10 note at Winchester Cathedral, where she is buried. The note will enter circulation in September. As Isabella Thorpe posits in Northanger Abbey: "After all that romancers may say, there is no doing without money."

3. Anonymous was a woman


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen  on display at Geylang East library. PHOTO: ST FILE

The four novels Austen published during her lifetime were done so anonymously. Sense And Sensibility was said to be "By a Lady", while Pride And Prejudice, in the same vein, was attributed to "The Author of Sense and Sensibility". Many of its early readers considered it too clever to have been written by a woman.

4. Otherwise engaged

Austen never married, but was engaged for a day to a wealthy childhood friend, Harris Bigg-Wither. She accepted the surprise proposal in 1802 when she was nearly 27 and he was six years younger. The marriage would have rescued her family from their dire financial straits, but she was not able to go through with it and turned him down the next morning, causing much scandal.

5. Fake married - twice

Austen is also thought to have faked her own marriage twice, by creating fictitious entries in a Hampshire marriage register linking herself with two separate men. As a teenager, she would have had access to the register because her father was the rector of the parish. It is not known if the two men, Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam of London and Edmund Arthur William Mortimer of Liverpool, actually existed.

6. Letters destroyed

Austen's older sister Cassandra, to whom she was very close, burned most of her 3,000 letters after her death, cutting out pieces of the ones she kept, presumably to maintain Austen's privacy and prevent some of her comments from coming to light.