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Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility"

Sense and Sensibility

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Here is the very first notice that Jane Austen's first novel, Sense and Sensibility, was published and available to the public! It appears in the 8 November 1811 Times of London, near the top left corner of the page.

Jane Austen was born 16 Dec 1775 in Steventon, Hampshire, England, to Rev. George and Cassandra Leigh Austen. Her older sister (born 1773) was also named Cassandra, and she had brothers James (born 1765), George (born about 1766), Edward (Born 1767), Henry (born 1771), Francis (born 1774), and Charles (born 1779). Jane received most of her schooling at home (her father was a tutor) but was also educated briefly by a relative. There is some debate about whether she attended the Reading Ladies boarding school in Reading, Berks, from 1785-1786. The Austen children loved to read, write and act in plays. In fact, most of Jane's later novels were originally conceived in her youth, and later rewritten for publication. Two of her brothers (James and Henry) became Anglican clergymen like their father (Henry was a banker prior to becoming a clergyman); Francis and Charles had successful naval careers. George apparently had some sort of disability and did not live at home. Edward became a wealthy landowner at Chawton.

When Jane's father retired in 1801, the family moved to Bath then, after his death in 1805, the women in the family (neither Cassandra nor Jane married) moved to Southampton to live with Francis and his family. Jane found life with limited resources in Bath difficult after life in a small town. In 1809, the women moved to Edward's estate, Chawton, where Jane wrote her later novels.

When Jane Austen wrote her first novel, she called it Elinor and Marianne, and there is discussion as to whether she based the novel on herself and her sister Cassandra, and some debate as to whether she saw herself as the Sense or the Sensibility. At any rate, the authoress of her first novel is given simply as "Lady ____". It has been argued that she did not reveal her real name because women authors were frowned upon at that time. However,a quick look at the publication notices from the month of October 1811 alone indicates that at least 8 women authored books, and that does not include all names where only initials were given.

Henrietta Maria Moriarty (H. N. Moriarty) had 3 novels published between 1811 and 1813. Sydney Owenson, who wrote under both Miss Owenson and Lady Sydney Morgan, was a prolific authoress between 1803 and 1833. "Miss Byron" was Medora Gordon Byron who sometimes identified herself simply as "the author of" a previous book. Elizabeth Thomas took the nom de plume of "Bridget Bluemantle" on occassion, and at least once as "an Old Wife of Twenty Years". Mrs. Smith was really Catherine Smith. Mme Cottin was Sophie Ristaud Cottin or "Mme C". Madame de Genlis was Stephanie Felicite Ducrest de St-Albin, Comtesse de Genlis, who wrote over 80 books in her long lifetime. While her books were sometimes published in England, she was French. With the exception of Elizabeth Hamilton, and some of the works of Mme de Genlis and Miss Owenson, most of the women authors wrote books clearly identified as novels, tales or romances. None of them, however, reached the heights attained by Jane Austen.

The author of this Story Page suspects Jane was unsure how her first novel would be received, and identifying herself as "Lady ___" not only concealed her true identity but may also have been an effort to supplement the tone of the novel and her own wishful thinking.

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