Study Guide

Jane Austen Childhood

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Jane Austen was born 16 December 1775 in Steventon, a small village in rural southern England. She was the seventh of eight children (six boys, two girls) born to William and Cassandra Austen. Her father was a clergyman who also tutored young male students to supplement his income. The family was not impoverished, but it would be fair to say they were of very modest means. As a result, the Austen parents employed some parenting techniques that might be considered unusual today, but were common for families of their social class. To save room in the crowded household, each of the children was sent to live with a neighbor woman from the time they were three months old until they were two. (Their parents visited them daily.) Austen's brother Edward was adopted by a wealthy, childless cousins. Jane's visits to her brother's estate exposed her to the world of the English upper classes.

Jane Austen was extremely close to her sister Cassandra, her elder by two years. The Austen sisters were inseparable and lived together all of their lives. When Jane was eight and Cassandra was ten, both girls were sent for schooling with a tutor in Oxford, England. When typhoid fever broke out a few months later and both girls fell ill, their mother rushed them back to Steventon. A second attempt at boarding school came two years later. Within a year it became clear that the family did not have enough money to send both of the girls to school, and they returned home. From the age of eleven onwards, Austen simply educated herself with books from her father's library, which he encouraged.

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