The Life and Times of Jane Austen: How She Never Found Love

By Morgan Pettersson

Jane Austen was the woman who created timeless classic tales about love, romance, passion and heart break. Yet how could this
woman whom never married create such tales without some form of life imitating art? Well truth be told in her short 41 years of life Jane did indeed feel lust, love and heartache, as well as receive unwanted offers of marriage. There have been many contemporary interpretations of Jane’s life recently, focusing on the real person behind great classics such as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. One of these was the 2007 movie Becoming Jane starring Anne Hathaway and focusing on one of the alleged lovers through her life. As with anything that Hollywood creates and aims to the masses this was simply an interpretation and through my research there is still no hard factual evidence as to the extent of any of the ‘lovers’ which Austen had.

Jane was born in the village of Stevenson in Hampshire, on the 16th December 1775. She was the seventh child of eight children to the Reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. Growing up Jane was mostly home schooled and actively encouraged to incite her imagination through reading, writing and performing plays with her favourite older sister Cassandra.  At the age of 14 Jane wrote her first novel Love and Friendship and then A History of England by a partial, prejudiced and ignorant Historian. By her early twenties Jane had written three novels that were later to be revised and published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey. During the early years of her life Austen’s father decided to pack up and move both Jane and her sister, along with their mother to Bath in order to have a comfortable retirement. Jane greatly disliked the confines of the small town compared to the freedom of Hampshire and during this time did not write anything substantial.

It was after her father’s death in 1805 that Jane met a young man and feel in love. Unfortunately the man died and this left Jane heartbroken. It is believed nothing was written about the affair at the time with the un named suitor, but that he was of amiable character and that he had fallen completely in love with Jane. Upon parting ways he proclaimed he would seek her out again, but instead the next news to reach Jane was of his death! Some sources site this as being the turning point for Jane as it deeply affected her. There is speculation that the novel Persuasion was reflective of Janes own life during this time.

Jane had a mutual flirtation with an Irish man named Thomas Lefroy. They were both 20 years old at the time. It was believed that he was not wealthy enough to marry Jane and nothing ever came of the affair. Although both mentioned the affair in later years with Lefroy mentioning it as a ‘boyish love’ and Jane is thought to have pulled upon the experience of brief love and painful separation in some of her novels. The film Becoming Jane focuses on the liaison between Jane and Lefroy, although historically it cannot be ascertained as to the real extent of their relationship. She later accepted the marriage proposal of Harris Bigg- Wither a wealthy landowner and brother to one of her closest friends. Yet the next morning Jane caused a scandal by breaking off the engagement as she had had a change of heart.

It wasn’t until her brother Edward offered his mother and sisters a home back in Hampshire in 1809 that Jane was re inspired to write again. Austen revised the already penned Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice and went on to publish them in 1811 and1813. During the next few years leading up until her death Austen published Mansfield park in 1814 and Emma in 1816. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were the last Austen novels published. They were published together in 1818 a year after her death.

Sadly Austen never lived to see the success of her work, or indeed her name even being associated with any of her great books. All that was printed alongside the Novels Title was that they were written by ‘a lady’. There is also the unanswered question surrounding why Austen never married? We shall never know the answer to that question, and nor should it really matter. Why should a woman not be able to write stories about love, romance and attraction if she is not married? Why is Austen being judged based on her relationship status? Austen was a strong woman, who may have never found the love and happiness that she may have craved, or she may have found it without the need to marry a man. Jane contracted Addison’s Disease which is a tubercular illness of the kidneys and eventually was unable to walk. The Novel Sandition was started in the winter of 1816, but Jane’s illness prevented the completion of the work. Jane died tragically in her sister Cassandras arms on the 18th July 1817, at the young age of 41.

This article was published in 2010 in Metior Magazine, Perth, Australia.

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