Although Austen was undoubtedly aware of these external events, they remain notably absent from her writing. She made it a point to write about only what she knew from first-hand experience and, having never left the South of England, her experience was rather limited. While some find this cultural myopia disturbing, others feel it to be one of Jane Austen's greatest strengths. By avoiding the pretense of discussing matters that fell outside of the realm of her daily experience, she could focus on what she knew best--the society of 19th-century English country families. Jane Austen's novels are, in this sense, highly autobiographical. Her characters share this insular view of their world, carrying on with dances and amateur theatricals, seemingly oblivious to any outside concerns.
Jane Austen's world began in Steventon, where Jane's father held a post as rector. Born 16th December, 1775, Jane lived in the family's small parish house for the first 25 years of her life. Here, she led a quiet but pleasant existence, spending time at home, or visiting with local families of similar social status. She attended parties and dances at many of the local grand houses, including The Vyne, now owned by the British National Trust, a registered charity founded in 1895 to preserve places of historic interest. She also visited with her siblings in adjoining counties--Kent, in particular, became one of Jane's favourite places. Although she did not write any of the six main novels during these years, ...
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...ps when they were on leave; and Edward from his house at Godmersham.
Jane lived at Chawton until her declining health made it necessary for her and Cassandra to move to Winchester (only 15 miles from Chawton), where she could be closer to expert medical care. She, Cassandra, and Martha Lloyd made the trip in May of 1817. Her condition, known today to have been Addison's disease, left her in a continually degenerative state of health. She continued to write during this period, however, and Sanditon, the novel she was working on until her death, is a self-mocking treatment of the invalid state into which she could not prevent herself from slipping.
Jane Austen died on 18th July 1817 in the arms of her beloved sister Cassandra. She is buried in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral and only a simple plaque identifies her grave. Strangely, the stone makes no mention of the fact that Austen was a novelist, other than an oblique reference to the 'extraordinary endowments of her mind.' But, despite this modest resting place, Jane Austen has been immortalized by the body of work that survived her and continues to delight and entertain readers today, almost 200 years after her death.
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