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Jane Austen - Her Early Years

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Jane Austen was born on December 16th, 1775. She spent over half of her life in Hampshire in the village of Steventon. Authors and historians today can only speculate about her early years, but the basic facts are as follows. She was remarkably close to her older sister Cassandra and they both went to a boarding school in Oxford. After about one year, they were removed from the school due to their intense dislike of the place. Jane seems to have received most of her education from her father's extensive library. Furthermore, she and her siblings loved to put on small plays in the family barn.

For a while, most of the Austen family assumed that the eldest son, James, would become the writer. Of course, today we know better. Jane started writing at a young age, no doubt inspired by her mother's poetry and by her oldest brother. She wrote during this time primarily for the amusement of her family and friends. Her early life seems to foreshadow her later years; she always seemed more at ease with smaller groups of family and friends as opposed to large cities and rooms full of strangers.

When she was eleven years old, Jane became good friends with a woman named Anne Lefroy who was several years Jane's senior. Unfortunately, Anne died as a result of a horseback riding accident on Jane twenty-ninth birthday. Anne Lefroy was the aunt of Tom Lefroy.

Much attention and speculation has been devoted to Jane Austen's early twenties. At that age, she could consider marriage as a definite possibility. Tom Lefroy is considered by many people to be Jane's first love interest. He was in her village visiting his aunt (Anne Lefroy) and her husband for Christmas and New Year's. It is extremely probably that Tom and Jane met frequently at the local balls and assemblies. It does appear that they shared some playful banter over the novel Tom Jones.

Tom Lefroy was the oldest of eleven children and was expected to provide for his family when it came to his studies and business undertakings. At the time he met Jane, he was a law student. Since both he and Jane had very little money, a marriage between them would have been impractical. Anne Lefroy was the one who had Tom return to Ireland to finish his studies.

Some time later, Tom married much to his advantage, had seven children, and became Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. It is not precisely known what Jane felt for Tom. In the letters to her sister that have survived, she seems calm and resigned. She may not have really care for him at all. It is impossible today to make a firm judgment.

With the exception of one or two suitors (their pursuit of Jane was brief), the opportunity to marry really never presented itself to Jane. Her sister Cassandra, after losing her fiance to yellow fever, never married either. Jane did receive a proposal from a man named Harris Bigg-Wither and she was engaged to him from about twelve hours. She retracted her acceptance the very next morning, mostly likely because she did not love or esteem the man. Also, for a long time, it was a family joke that Jane would marry the Reverend Samuel Blackall.  It is quite likely that the infamous Mr. Collins from Pride & Prejudice was inspired by the Reverend Blackall.



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