July 18, remembering Jane Austen

Yes, I’m in Atlanta at the great big conference (RWA) but this is too important a date to ignore.

Jane Austen died oaustengraven this date in 1817. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral, because she died within the Cathedral Close and probably her clergymen brothers had some influence. Famously, her tombstone bears no mention of her writing, but that’s because she published anonymously. It was only after her death that her family invented the Austen mystique (dear Aunt Jane who couldn’t help being a wee bit coarse) and allowed her name to be used.

She was much loved by her family and particularly by her sister Cassandra, who wrote this moving epitaph:

She was the sun of my life, the gilder of every pleasure, the soother of every sorrow; I had not a thought concealed from her, and it is as if I had lost a part of myself.

She was only 41 when she died. It’s tempting to think that Persuasion, all about regrets and acceptance and second chances, was her final work and her testament. It was her last completed book but she was at work on Sanditon, a rollicking farce full of jokes about invalids.

That Jane Austen–always full of surprises! I wonder what her life would have been like it she’d inherited the Austen longevity genes and lasted into her 80s? A lioness of the literary scene? A subverter of Victorian delicacy?

What do you think?

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