JANE AND LITERACY
What if Jane Austen couldn't read or write?
There is no doubt that the world would have been deprived of one of the most talented and best loved authors. Jane's novels have remained in print for 200 years and Pride & Prejudice is considered by many as the greatest romantic story of all time.
Jane was born in 1775, when less than half the women in England could read and write. Jane Austen was lucky to be born into a family that believed in education for girls and boys alike. Jane was well educated and, crucially, had access to her father’s extensive library of books in her childhood home of Steventon (owned by the Knight family). The library of books provided knowledge and inspiration to the young Jane, a prolific writer in her youth. When Jane was 26, her father retired and moved his wife and daughters to Bath, selling most of his extensive library as a consequence. The years that followed were not Jane’s happiest, and without easy access to a library of books, Jane must have been frustrated. Jane didn’t start writing again until, seven years later, she moved to Chawton, the Hampshire seat of her brother Edward, who had been adopted by the Knight family and inherited a number of country estates. Chawton gave Jane the security and privacy she needed to write and free access to the Knight family library housed at Chawton House.
Within a month of arriving in Chawton (an unpublished author), Jane had started writing in earnest again and within 18 months had published Sense & Sensibility. In her eight short years in Chawton, before her premature death, aged 41, Jane also published Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published shortly after Jane died.
Without access to libraries, Jane Austen may never have mastered literacy and Mr. Darcy would never have been shared with the world.