Though she wrote for a relatively short period of time, Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) has earned a place as one of England's great novelists. "First and foremost," wrote George Henry Lewes in 1852, "let Austen be named, the greatest artist that has ever written..." Her influence and skill were acknowledged by her contemporaries, including Sir Walter Scott, and continues to be so today.
To learn more about Jane Austen, it is helpful to begin with biographies about the woman herself. Biographies of Jane Austen were challenging to write due to the relative lack of letters and diaries written by Austen. After her death, Jane Austen's sister, Cassandra, burned or sold many of their correspondence. Over time, more and more papers have surfaced, allowing readers a deeper glimpse into her life. While written before 1952, when more papers by the author were discovered, Elizabeth Jenkins's Jane Austen, A Biography is well worth reading for the attention paid both to Austen and her works and the period in which she lived. The biography by Claire Tomlin entitled Jane Austen, A Life is able to include information found in the family papers discovered in the 1950s. The recent biography by David Noakes entitled Jane Austen, A Life, provides, according to Publishers Weekly, a "more frank and open account of her life and family almost reads like one of Austen's novels." Letters Two collections of Jane Austen's readers are known for their insightful annotations which help bring to life the subjects, places and events about which Jane Austen wrote. The first annotation is compiled by R W Chapman and was published in 1932 and revised in 1952. The second is by Deidre Le Faye, who has "reordered the letters into their correct chronological sequence " and provides additional information that any reader and fan of Jane Austen would appreciate. The times
In order to understand more about Jane Austen, it is helpful to read books about the period in which she lived. Two books by Amanda Vickery help to provide a glimpse of that world: A Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England and Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. Roy Porter's English Society in the 18th Century has been called "easily the best general account of eighteenth-century society that we have."