In Mansfield Park, first published in 1814, when the author had reached her full maturity as a novelist, Jane Austen paints some of her most witty and perceptive studies of character. Against a genteel country landscape of formal parks and stately homes, the gossipy Mrs. Norris becomes a masterful comic creation; the fickle young suitor Henry Crawford provides an unequaled portrait of an unscrupulous young man; and the complexly drawn Fanny Price emerges as one of Jane Austens finest achievementsthe poor cousin who comes to stay with her wealthy relatives at Mansfield Park and learns how the game of love can too easily turn to folly. More intricately plotted and wider in scope than Austens earlier works,Mansfield Park continues to enchant and delight us as a superb example of a great authors craft.
Though the domain of Jane Austens novels was as circumscribed as her life, her caustic wit and keen observation made her the equal of the greatest novelists in any language. Born the seventh child of the rector of Steventon, Hampshire, on December 16, 1775, she was educated mainly at home. At an early age she began writing sketches and satires of popular novels for her familys entertainment. As a clergymans daughter from a well-connected family, she had an ample opportunity to study the habits of the middle class, the gentry, and the aristocracy. At twenty-one, she began a novel called The First Impressions an early version ofPride and Prejudice. In 1801, on her fathers retirement, the family moved to the fashionable resort of Bath. Two years later she sold the first version ofNorthanger Abby to a London publisher, but the first of her novels to appear wasSense and Sensibility, published at her own expense in 1811. It was followed byPride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815).
After her father died in 1805, the family first moved to Southampton then to Chawton Cottage in Hampshire. Despite this relative retirement, Jane Austen was still in touch with a wider world, mainly through her brothers; one had become a very rich country gentleman, another a London banker, and two were naval officers. Though her many novels were published anonymously, she had many early and devoted readers, among them the Prince Regent and Sir Walter Scott. In 1816, in declining health, Austen wrotePersuasion and revised Northanger Abby, Her last work, Sandition, was left unfinished at her death on July 18, 1817. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral. Austens identity as an author was announced to the world posthumously by her brother Henry, who supervised the publication of Northanger Abby and Persuasion in 1818.
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