Jane Austen (16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817) was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction set among the gentry have earned her a place as one of the most widely read and most beloved writers in English literature. Amongst scholars and critics, Austen's realism and biting social commentary have cemented her historical importance as a writer.
Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to Austen's development as a professional writer. Austen's artistic apprenticeship lasted from her teenage years until she was about thirty-five years old. During this period, she experimented with various literary forms, including the epistolary novel which she tried and then abandoned, and wrote and extensively revised three major novels and began a fourth. From 1811 until 1816, with the release of Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), she achieved success as a published writer. She wrote two additional novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, both published posthumously in 1818, and began a third, which was eventually titled Sanditon, but died before completing it.
Austen's works critique the novels of sensibility of the second half of the eighteenth century and are part of the transition to nineteenth-century realism. Austen's plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. Like those of Samuel Johnson, one of the strongest influences on her writing, her works are concerned with moral issues.
During Austen's lifetime her works brought her little personal fame and only a few positive reviews. Through the mid-nineteenth century, her novels were admired mainly by members of the literary elite. However, the publication of her nephew's A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869 introduced her to a far wider public as an appealing personality and kindled popular interest in her works. By the 1940s, Austen had become widely accepted in academia as a "great English writer". The second half of the twentieth century saw a proliferation of Austen scholarship, which explored many aspects of her novels: artistic, ideological, and historical. In popular culture, a Janeite fan culture has developed, centred on Austen's life, her works, and the various film and television adaptations of them.