On this day in 1811, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is published anonymously. A small circle of people, including the Price Regent, learned Austen’s identity, but most of the British public knew only that the popular book had been written “by a Lady.”
Austen was born in 1775, the seventh of eight children born to a clergyman in Steventon, a country village in Hampshire, England. She was very close to her older sister, Cassandra, who remained her faithful editor and critic throughout her life. The girls had five years of formal schooling, then studied with their father. Jane read voraciously and began writing stories as young as age 12, completing an early novella at age 14.
Austen’s quiet, happy world was disrupted when her father retired to Bath in 1801. Jane hated the resort town but amused herself by making close observations of ridiculous society manners. After her father’s death in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister lived with one of her brothers until 1808, when another brother provided them a permanent home at Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire.
Jane concealed her writing from most of her acquaintances, slipping her writing paper under a blotter when someone entered the room. Though she avoided society, she was charming, intelligent, and funny. She rejected at least one proposal of marriage. She published several more novels before her death, including Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). She died at age 42, of what today is thought to be Addison’s disease.