The Mysterious MISS AUSTEN

By Hindley, Meredith | Humanities, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Mysterious MISS AUSTEN

Hindley, Meredith, Humanities

In May 1813, JANE AUSTEN MINGLED AMONG LONDON'S FASHIONABLE CROWD AS she took in an exhibition of oils and watercolors at Wigley's Great Room at Spring Gardens. Since the beginning of the year, the "ton" had been chattering about and passing around a delicious new book, Pride and Prejudice, which chronicled the travails of the Bennet sisters as they navigated the marriage market. The author, to the dismay of polite society, remained anonymous. So it was with some ease that Austen strolled through the gallery playing a secret game: Which of the portraits that hung on the walls looked like the characters she had created for Pride and Prejudice? Might she see the sweet Jane who marries the equally pleasant-tempered Mr. Bingley? Or Elizabeth, whose fine eyes and formidable wit crack the shell of the aloof Mr. Darcy?

Austen finally stumbled upon a portrait that she thought looked liked Jane or "Mrs. Bingley." "Mrs. Bingley's is exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there was never a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favorite colour with her," she wrote her sister Cassandra. Austen didn't see "Mrs. Darcy" in any of the portraits, but suspected that her heroine would have been wearing yellow.

A few days later, Austen played the same game when she attended an exhibition of paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds at the Royal Academy at Somerset House. "Mrs. Darcy" once again proved elusive. A disappointed Austen told Cassandra that "I can only imagine that Mr D. prizes any Picture of her too much to like it should it be exposed to the public eye." Darcy, she believed, would regard Elizabeth with a mixture of "Love, Pride & Delicacy."

It's not surprising to see Austen think of her characters as living, breathing people. Austen had lived with Elizabeth, Jane, Bingley, and Darcy for more than fifteen years. She began writing Pride and Prejudice when she was twenty, working on the book from October 1796 to August 1797. But Pride and Prejudice wasn't published until January 1813, which raises the question of what caused such an extended delay between its writing and publication.

For the past two centuries, historians and literary scholars have attempted to solve the mystery that is Jane Austen's life. How did a woman from a small village in Hampshire come to write six of the most beloved novels in the English language? Their search for answers has been complicated by the fact that Austen lived a quiet life. Women didn't leave much of a historical footprint in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

If you assumed that Austen was a regular letter writer, you'd be correct, but the majority of those letters and her personal archive were destroyed. Cassandra, who served as her executor, scissored some letters and burned hundreds more. Other letters held by the family were destroyed over the years as well. In 1990, when Jo Modert published Jane Austen's Manuscript Letters in Facsimile, a project undertaken with NEH support, there were 130-odd known Austen letters. The count is now up to 160. What remains is illuminating. Scholars have used the letters, along with family diaries, correspondence by friends and family, and county records to reconstruct much of Austen's life. When everything is assembled, it reveals a woman at the mercy of her family's finances for her very existence, yet nurtured and supported by her relatives when they recognized an uncommon talent in their midst.

The Surety of Steventon

Austen was born on December 16, 1775, which was a month later than her parents, George and Cassandra, reckoned she should arrive. With six other children - James, George, Edward, Henry, Cassandra, and Francis - the Austens might have been more adept at counting the weeks. They were happy for the arrival of another daughter, and George, a parson, baptized Jane at home. Another brother, Charles, followed four years later, marking an end to the family's expansion, much to the relief of the household's budget. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Mysterious MISS AUSTEN


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.