JANE AND LITERACY

What if Jane Austen couldn't read or write?

Jane Austen

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. She was lucky and grew up in a household that valued education - even for girls. Jane went to school and was provided with books, pens, paper and encouragement. Paper and writing materials were expensive, and without the generosity and support of her father and brothers, Jane would not have been able to afford to practice her writing or pen her novels, and Mr. Darcy would never have been shared with the world.

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I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading
— Jane Austen
 

THE CONFIDENT READER

Jane's access to books opened up a world of thought and knowledge

Her father's library, in Jane's childhood home of Steventon, contained over 500 volumes and an emphasis was placed on the importance of education for all the Austen children, both at home and away from school. When the family moved to Bath in 1801, most of George Austen's library was sold. Legend has it Jane fainted upon the news of the move, knowing she would have to give up her home, the library and her precious piano. For eight years whilst in Bath and Southhampton, Jane did not have easy access to a library of books and these were her least productive years. In 1809 Jane moved to Chawton, where she had access to the Knight family library at Chawton House and was finally able to devote herself to her writing. It is from her Chawton home that Jane published Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice and went on to write Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion. Libraries were an invaluable source of knowledge and inspiration for Jane's work and without access to books, Jane may very well have not left us with such treasures.

 
Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody
— Jane Austen
 

THE PROUD WRITER

From reading literary masterpieces to writing her own 

Jane loved to share her work, regaling her family with stories and poems, their enjoyment and feedback spurring her on. Her first attempts to publish failed, but Jane was determined to share her masterpieces with a wider audience and did not give up. Jane wanted her work to be read and enjoyed and the success of Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice encouraged her to write her other most famous works. She would have no doubt continued if not for her untimely death, aged just 41 years. How different things would have been if Jane had not been able to share her work! Jane in turn mentored her nieces, Fanny and Anne, both budding writers who sent their work to Jane for critique and advice.