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Most of Jane Austen's life was spent in a series of houses in the countryside of southern England, among the families of clergymen and minor gentry. Even after the success of her novels, her life didn't become much more public. The major events in her life were local and ordinary: a death in the family, illness, financial troubles, disappointments in courtship or love.

She wrote forthrightly in her novels of the unpleasant lives awaiting heroines who didn't or wouldn't secure husbands. Reportedly at 18 she was energetically husband hunting and noticed for it. The experience of disappointment was countered by a sense of the comedy of courtship. She writes in a letter: "There was one gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good looking young man, who I was told wanted so much to be introduced to me. But as he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, we never could bring it about."

She was a popular young woman with many admirers but was especially smitten with Tom Lefroy, whose family had grander views for him.

There were other suitors, including a young man (reportedly fictitious) with whom she is said to have fallen in love with in 1801, who died before they could meet again. She agreed to marry an heir to a large estate but changed her mind the next day. She then rejected a clergyman, Edward Bridges, and sometimes regretted her refusal.

Her fiction is generally kind to husbands, with a few exceptions: usually minor characters, snobbish and fatuous toadies like Mr. Collins or Mr. Elton, whom we are introduced to as suitors. Husbands are usually on display as former suitors, or as fathers, rather than as husbands.

Although her works had sympathy for women who showed a romantic indifference to worldly prudence in the name of true love, Austen's last novel, Persuasion, reverses the pattern, suggesting the rightness of obeying one's first and strongest affections, of taking risks for love, of the error of not marrying in youth because of strong opinion from elders.

After Jane's death, her sister Cassandra marked a passage on this subject, about the heroine Anne Elliot, with the words ''Dear, dear Jane!'' But even as she completed this elegiacal work, another side of her was preparing, in the unfinished Sanditon, a hardened satire on senseless romantic sensibilities, reminiscent of the burlesques she wrote in her youth.

 

Source: The New York Times Book Review, September 14, 1997 pg. 7