December 16, 1775: Jane Austen is born.
The celebrated British novelist was born to a large family consisting of six brothers (one of whom became her literary agent) and a sister (to whom Jane was close all her life). One of Austen’s earliest works was the epistolary novel Love and Freindship [sic], which shares similarities with many of her later works, especially with regard to its witty, satirical nature, and its lampooning of other literary genres. Austen’s first published work was her 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, which was followed by the 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice; both were relatively well-received, but because Austen published all her works anonymously, like many female authors at the time, they brought her no personal fame. Neither Austen nor her books were as popular in the author’s own time as they are today.
Austen went on to write Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Northanger Abbey (1818), and Persuasion (1818); the last two were published anonymously. In her own time, reviewers and critics often misinterpted Austen’s novels and her highly ironic, satirical style, and the average 19th-century reader preferred mainstream Romantic or Victorian literature to any of her novels (Austen adhered to the literary conventions of neither period). By the late 1800s the Encyclopædia Britannica was describing Austen as “one of the most distinguished modern British novelists”, and her works saw a rapid increase in popularity in the early 1900s; this popularity gave rise to the term “Janeites”, which was used by the “cultured few” who considered themselves a literary elite, as opposed to those they believed did not properly understand Austen’s works. Interpretation of Austen’s works changed significantly after her death and through the 20th century, especially after the 1940s, during which scholarly interest in Austen’s writings boomed. After this boom she came to be regarded as a much more subversive writer than previously thought. To this day she remains one of Britain’s most beloved authors.