Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

December 16, 1775 - July 18, 1817

A 19th century engraving of Jane Austen, likely derived from a portrait by her sister, Cassandra Austen, c. 1810


Jane Austen was born in Steventon, Hampshire, on December 16, 1775. For much of her life, Austen’s father, George Austen (1731–1805), served as the rector of the Anglican parishes at Steventon and at nearby Deane. He came from an old, respected, and wealthy family of wool merchants. George entered St. John’s College, Oxford on a fellowship, where he most likely met Jane’s mother, Cassandra Leigh (1739–1827). She came from the prominent Leigh family; her father was rector at All Souls College, Oxford, where she grew up among the gentry.

Austen was the seventh of eight children in an affectionate and high-spirited family who belonged to the lower fringes of English gentry. Austen’s early years consisted of regular church attendance, socializing with friends and neighbors, reading novels — often of her own composition — aloud with her family in the evenings. Socializing with the neighbors often meant dancing, either impromptu in someone’s home after supper or at the balls held regularly at the assembly rooms in the town hall. It was this social atmosphere and feminine identity that Austen so skillfully satirized in her writings.

The Austen Children

  • James (1765–1819)
  • George (1766–1838)
  • Edward (1768–1852)
  • Henry Thomas (1771–1850)
  • Cassandra Elizabeth (1773–1845)
  • Francis William (Frank) (1774–1865)
  • Jane (1775-1817)
  • Charles John (1779–1852)


Austen was mostly educated at home by her father and elder brothers and was known to be an insatiable reader. Other sources of education were private theatricals that were staged by she and her siblings in the rectory’s barn. It is believed that they helped to further develop her sense of satire established in earlier years.

Excerpt of Jane Austen’s “Juvenilia” preserved in The British Museum


From the age of eleven, and perhaps earlier, Austen wrote poems and stories for her family’s amusement. By June of 1793, she had created a large body of work, which she revised and hand wrote into three large notebooks, now referred to as the “Juvenilia”. Today, one of those books is preserved in The Bodleian Library and the other two in The British Museum. These notebooks contain twenty-nine plays, verses and short novels written in various stages.


Austen’s works critique the sentimental novels of the second half of the 18th century and are part of the transition to 19th century literary realism. Austen attempted epistolary style, but found the flexibility of narrative more conducive to her realism, a realism in which each conversation and gesture carries a weight of significance. Her narrative style marks the first English novelist to do so extensively—through which she had the ability to present a character’s thoughts directly to the reader and yet still retain narrative control. Austen had a natural ear for speech and dialogue, according to many scholars. Techniques such as fragmentary speech suggest a character’s traits and their tone revealing a character’s mood—frustration, anger, happiness—each treated differently and often through varying patterns of sentence structures.

Her humor comes from her modesty and lack of superiority, allowing her most successful characters, such as Elizabeth Bennet, to transcend the trivialities of life, which the more foolish characters are overly absorbed in. Austen used comedy to explore the individualism of women’s lives and gender relations, and she appears to have used it to find the goodness in life, often fusing it with “ethical sensibility”, creating artistic tension.


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851

This English novelist is most notably known for her Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818).

Portrait of Shelley by Richard Rothwell


William Wordsworth

April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850

This English Romantic poet helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature. Wordsworth was Britain’s poet laureate from 1843 until his death in April 1850.

Portrait of Wordsworth by William Shuter


Although the birth of the English novel is to be seen in the first half of the 18th century, Jane Austen takes the fiction novel to its distinctively modern character in the realistic treatment of unremarkable people in unremarkable situations of everyday life. In her six major novels— Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion—Austen creates the comedy of manners of middle-class life in the England of her time. Her repeated fable of a young woman’s voyage to self-discovery on the passage through love to marriage focuses on easily recognizable aspects of life. It is this concentration upon character, personality, and the tensions between her heroines and their society that relates her novels more closely to the modern world than to the traditions of the 18th century.

Sense and Sensibility

Austen’s first major novel was Sense and Sensibility, whose main characters are two sisters. The first draft was written in 1795 and was titled Elinor and Marianne. In 1797, Austen rewrote the novel and titled it Sense and Sensibility. After years of polishing, it was finally published in 1811.

Pride and Prejudice

In 1796, Austen wrote the novel First Impressions. The work was rewritten and published under the title Pride and Prejudice in 1813. It is her most popular and perhaps her greatest novel. It achieves this distinction by virtue of its perfection of form, which exactly balances and expresses its human content. As in Sense and Sensibility, the descriptive terms in the title are closely associated with the two main characters.

Title page from the first edition of the first volume of Pride and Prejudice

Mansfield Park

Although being published in 1814, Austen began writing Mansfield Park in 1811. It is her most severe exercise in moral analysis and presents a conservative view of ethics, politics, and religion.

Northanger Abbey

This was Austen’s first novel to be completed for publication, in 1803. However, it was not published until after her death in 1817. Fundamentally Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic fiction. Austen turns the conventions of 18th century novels on their head by making her heroine a plain and undistinguished girl from a middle-class family, allowing the heroine to fall in love with the hero before he has a serious thought of her, and exposing the heroine’s romantic fears and curiosities as groundless.


Austen began writing Persuasion in 1815 and was her second novel published posthumously in 1817. It was her last complete novel and is perhaps most directly expressive of her feelings about her own life. Austen’s satirical treatment of social pretensions and worldly motives is perhaps at its keenest in this novel. The predominant tone of Persuasion, however, is not satirical but romantic. It is probably the most uncomplicated love story that Austen ever wrote.


  • Sense and Sensibility October 1811
  • Pride and Prejudice January 1813
  • Mansfield Park May 1814
  • Emma December 1816
  • Northanger Abbey December 1817 (posthumously)
  • Persuasion December 1817 (posthumously)


1995 - 2020


1811 - 1820

George IV of the United Kingdom, who was prince regent while his father was mentally incapable between 1811 and 1820.


The Regency in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was a period at the end of the Georgian era, when King George III was deemed unfit to rule due to illness, and his son ruled as his proxy, as prince regent. The term Regency can refer to various stretches of time; some are longer than the decade of the formal Regency, which lasted from 1811 to 1820. The period from 1795 to 1837, which includes the latter part of George III’s reign and the reigns of his sons, George IV and William IV, is sometimes regarded as the Regency era.


England was still largely rural in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the rhythm of its country life was tied to the seasonal needs of agriculture. Like farmers in all times and places, the rural folk of Jane Austen’s English countryside were at the mercy of the weather. The winters were often very cold, and the springs very wet and late in arriving. Summers could be either very dry or cold and wet.


  • The population of Britain at the dawn of the 19th century was nine million
  • Four-fifths of the population lived in the country
  • One-third of the population was employed in agriculture


Fashion design of the early 19th century is called Regency style, named for Britain’s George Prince Regent who ran the country in the place of his father, King George III. The styles were influenced by classical Greek and Roman sculptures and actually began around 1795. Ladies had almost column-like dresses and men had well-fitting and tailored pants and jackets.

Women’s clothing styles were characterized by the Empire waist dress and classical Greek lines.

The Empire style dress has a high waist, a style that appeared in the late 1790s and has reappeared frequently in women’s clothing design for the past 200 years. The period is significant in that women did not need to wear the stiff, restrictive corsets. The Empire styles at the beginning of the 19th century were made of a soft, light weight fabric gathered just under the breasts. It featured a low square neckline, and small, short, puffed sleeves with a low shoulder line.

Men’s clothing styles saw the final abandonment of lace, embroidery, and other embellishments.

Dress was simplified and greater emphasis was put on tailoring to enhance the natural form of the body. This was also the period of the rise of hair wax for styling men’s hair, as well as mutton chops as a style of facial hair.

Breeches became longer and coats were cutaway in front with long skirts or tails behind, and had tall standing collars. Waistcoats were high-waisted, and squared off at the bottom, but came in a broad variety of styles.


The British have always had a diverse set of nicknames for money, or blunt, since it was considered very crass to discuss money. Terms for Regency era currency ranged from Monkeys, Ponies, Bits, Grands, Nickers, Oxfords, and Quids. The British resisted decimalized currency for a long time because they thought it was too complicated.

In this period, banknotes were essentially IOUs or promissory notes, based on the payer’s stash of precious metals or later representing credit money.
One Penny, copper tokens 1812
One Shilling, silver tokens 1812
Created By
Dwight Clark