Jane Austen: A Regency Feminist
Updated: Sep 3, 2022
Most people don’t usually think of Jane Austen as a feminist, but that is exactly what this regency author was.
Born on December 16, 1775, Austen was the youngest of seven children born to Reverend George and Cassandra Austen. Her father was a part of the Anglican clergy and always pushed his children to read. He bought Austen's first pen and paper that allowed her to start writing at such a young age and she went on to finish three drafts by the 1790s including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey.
It was at this point in her career that Austen hit a bump. No one would agree to publish her books and they often got sent back to her unread. Along with these rejections, Austen's father died in 1805, forcing her to move with her mother and sister to a family home where her brother lived. Her first book, Sense and Sensibility, was finally published in 1811 anonymously with the words “By a Lady” on every cover and it would stay this way for the rest of her life. Two years later, she went on to publish her most popular book, Pride and Prejudice, along with Mansfield Park and Emma two years after that.
Jane Austen wrote her books for young women to read and question society's norms. Austen wanted people to observe and learn from her countercultural protagonists. She believed in marriage for love and happiness, not just for social status, financial aid, and children, an opinion that was hardly thought of at the time. Most of her main characters can be seen reading, writing, objecting marriage, and overall reflecting a lot of aspects of Austen's life.
It took over a century for Austen to be fully recognized for her rebellious ideas. It wasn’t until the 1920s that literary scholars finally began to study and accredit her works as masterpieces. This, of course, increased her novel's popularity in England where Austen was born along with the United States as this was around the same time as the Women’s Rights movement.
Each of Austen’s books simply can not fit into a specific genre but they are mostly categorized in the romance genre and the comedy of manners genre, a category known for its satirical comedies that questions the manners of sophisticated society. Austen enjoyed challenging society's expectations for women. Most of her books revolve around courtship and the idea of marriage, which added romance to the novels, but it was this exact idea that Austen challenged. Instead of prioritizing marriage in her protagonist, the idea of finding real happiness is a very common theme.
At 41 years old, Austen developed what is believed to be Addison’s Disease, a very uncommon disease that occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough hormones. Austen continued to write until she physically could not pick up a pen anymore. She passed away on July 18, 1817, but her work did not end there. Her brother Henry, published her final two works, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, after her death. It was then that Jane Austen's name was finally revealed by her brother through a special biographical note included in each book.
Her six books went on to inspire over 77 adaptations whether they were motion pictures, television series, film adaptations or works based on her novels. Jane Austen wrote under the shadow of anonymity her whole life simply because she wanted young women to understand that there is more to life than marrying a man just because of status or finance, an opinion almost unheard of for her time. She inspired so many young women to look beyond society and this is what makes her truly admirable in my eyes and the eyes of so many of her readers throughout the ages.