Study Guide

Jane Austen Death

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In 1816, Austen started to feel ill with what was probably Addison's disease, a hormonal disorder that doctors at the time hadn't yet learned to treat effectively. She was working on two novels, Northanger Abbey (the novel previously titled Susan that she had bought back from the lazy publisher) and Persuasion, but the disease zapped her energy and slowed her progress. In May 1817, she and Cassandra moved to Winchester in order to be closer to Austen's doctors. Just two months later, on 18 July 1817, Jane Austen died. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral.

A few months after her death, Austen's brother Henry published her two final novels together in a single volume. He included an autobiographical note that identified Austen for the first time as the author of her work. The novels fell out of popularity after a few years, until Austen's nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh published a biography of his aunt entitled A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869. The memoir sparked a renewed interest in the writer. In 1883 the first popular editions of her novels were issued, igniting a widespread fandom that continues to this day. Fans' passion for her work was such that the literary critic Leslie Stephens (who was also Virginia Woolf's dad) dubbed it "Austenolatry," whose practitioners eventually began to call themselves Janeites.

As a woman who wrote in anonymity and never ventured out of southern England, Jane Austen would probably be shocked by the worldwide following she still claims nearly 200 years after her death. Her books speak to people across the boundaries of culture, class and gender. By reflecting real life—the "correct and striking representation of that which is daily taking place," as Sir Walter Scott said—her books continue to speak to people about the one thing that's a constant topic of interest to everyone—love. "We are teachers and librarians and book editors, as expected, but also judges, truck drivers, puppeteers, oceanographers, and zoo keepers," wrote Jeanne Kiefer, who in 2008 conducted a survey of Austen fans. "We listen to Elvis as well as Mozart while living in Akron, New Delhi, Tokyo, and Vancouver. There is only one thing that connects everyone in this group: we all have a special place in our heart for Jane. And in my view, that is the most important part of the anatomy of a Janeite."

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