On this day in 1817 beloved author Jane Austen died peacefully in her bed at the age of 41 after fighting a mysterious illness (now thought to be Hodgkin’s lymphoma) for nearly a year. In a letter to her niece Fanny, Austen’s sister Cassandra wrote that after,
Her complaint returned, there was a visible change, she slept more and much more comfortably; indeed, during the last eight-and-forty hours she was more asleep than awake… There was nothing convulsed which gave the idea of pain in her look; on the contrary, but for the continual motion of the head she gave one the idea of a beautiful statue, and even now, in her coffin, there is such a sweet, serene air over her countenance as is quite pleasant to contemplate.
In commemoration of this wonderful writer and her work, let’s take a look back at her oeuvre!
Sense and Sensibility was first published anonymously in 1811 and greeted with acclaim. It follows the Dashwood family after they are left nearly penniless by the sudden death of their patriarch. Sensible Elinor and romantic Marianne encounter various romantic entanglements as they try to find their place in the world.
Austen’s best loved and most widely read novel really needs no introduction. The love story between witty Elizabeth Bennet and shy Mr. Darcy has melted hearts all around the world and been adapted more than any of her other work.
When poor Fanny Price is sent to live with her wealthy relatives, they look down on her and treat her badly. The only one who treats her as an equal is her cousin Edmund and as they grow up together, she slowly falls in love with him. However, when a pair of siblings come to stay, they bring romance and confusion, threatening to tear them apart. Mansfield Park is the most detailed of Austen’s novels and definitely the most focused on morality but it is my least favorite of her books. Fanny is not a likable protagonist and her love story with Edmund is the least believable of Austen’s work.
“Handsome, clever, and rich,” Emma Woodhouse is one of Jane Austen’s least likable heroines though I’ve always found her quite fun. After introducing her beloved governess to her future husband, Emma is convinced that she has the gift of matchmaking and sets out to find her friends partners, accidentally falling in love herself along the way. Romantic misunderstandings abound in this tale of misplaced affections. Emma certainly has her flaws and makes plenty of mistakes but they come from a place of genuine love and she learns from them.
In this coming-of-age story, young Catherine Morland travels to Bath where she meets the Tilney family, befriending the sister and quickly falling in love with the brother. When she is invited back to stay at their family home she is thrilled but as an avid reader of gothic romances, the mysterious old abbey quickly sets her imagination racing. Can she separate her penchant for the sensational from the true feelings in her heart?
Seven years after allowing her family to pressure her into breaking off her engagement to Captain Wentworth, a man she truly loved, Anne Elliott is alone and considered a spinster. After realizing that her father’s prodigal ways have put the family into debt, the Elliotts move to Bath and rent their house to the sister of the man she jilted, bringing Wentworth back into Anne’s life. Anne and Captain Wentworth are underrated as an Austen couple. They have all the passion of Elizabeth and Darcy and the letter Wentworth writes her at the end of the novel is one of the best love letters in literature.
Thought to be written in 1794, Lady Susan or Love & Friendship was only published posthumously in 1871. For this reason it is probably Austen’s least read work but if you’re an avid Austen fan it is definitely worth a read. The story follows Lady Susan Vernon, a flirtatious widow who causes all kinds of romantic trouble while staying with her brother and trying to secure her daughter’s future.