About Real Reads
Jane Austen

What is it about Jane Austen? How did a fairly ordinary woman who lived two hundred years ago, and who nobody took that much notice of in her own short lifetime, become so famous?

To begin with, Jane was an intelligent, witty and observant writer who loved stories. From a very early age she was encouraged to read and write, and wrote her first novel in her teens.

Though Jane never really left home, the fact that she didn’t marry and have children gave her the time to write and the freedom to move within the different circles of people she described so vividly.

And though she was only aware of some of what was happening in the wider world, Jane lived in exciting times, in many ways not unlike our own. After long centuries when little had changed in England, people were starting to think more about important social issues like freedom, personal responsibility, and the relationship between love and duty. Tastes in art, architecture and literature were changing rapidly, from a more formal and rigid ‘classicism’ to a freer and more adventurous ‘romanticism’.

The year of Jane Austen’s birth, 1775, was also when the great landscape painter John Turner was born, when the American revolution began, and when James Watt invented the steam engine, the machine which would transform the Victorian landscape. In Jane’s lifetime the French revolution took place, Britain lost its American colonies, and a new British colony was established at Botany Bay in Australia. Ludwig van Beethoven, Josef Haydn and Leopold Mozart were all composing; William Wordsworth, John Keats and Percy Shelley were writing their best-known poetry. What a time to be alive!

Above all, Jane questioned. She explored what really mattered in life and relationships. She was one of the first women to write about what women really wanted. That’s a question which is just as important today as it was then, which may be why her books are just as popular now as they ever have been.