In high school, I wrote an essay about Jane Austen for a contest about women who did extraordinary things. I was the fourth entry out of four, and I won honorable mention because the people running the contest were generous and wished to reward each of the young people who took the time to write essays.
I did a poor job telling Jane Austen's story in high school. I admired her books so much but knew very little about her life. I adored the way she conveyed everyday life and love, her talent at building sentences and suspense, the art with which she made me care for people who never actually lived.
Now I know I'm not the only one who didn't know much about her life. Biographers complain that there isn't much evidence to tell us about her private life - but they keep searching for what happened to her in real life to explain why she was such a skilled writer. Biographies - both written and cinematic - focus on why she never married.
One review of the many biographies of Austen writes "Literary biographers who set out to establish how Austen's novels arise from her personal experience have long been handicapped by the scarcity of source material. Nothing much ever happened to her."
Jane Austen published her first novel at age 36 (Sense and Sensibility), and went on to publish three more novels, then two more after her death. That's six novels. Six novels that are still being read two hundred years after her death. I believe that's something pretty significant to happen to a woman in the early 1800s.
I love my husband and children more than life itself. I would never, ever give them up. But I admire, so much, that Jane Austen wrote six beautiful novels (by fountain pen with no wite-out or critique group!). While some are bothered that she never married I see no need to judge her, only honor her.
I (finally) finished a first draft of my first novel last year (at age 37). I will be working hard on transforming it into a polished second draft, along with tackling a second novel in 2013. I will think often on Jane Austen through this process.