Jane Austen
1775 - 1817

An Introduction to Her Life and Work

Introduction | Getting Started | Ready Reference | Novels
Biography | Letters | Bibliography | Literary Criticism
Indexes and Abstracts | Journal Articles | Internet Resources

A pathfinder prepared by Janet McLaughlin, Fall, 1997.


Jane Austen is one of the most beloved authors of our time. In recent years she has found a new audience due to film and television adaptations of four of her novels. Her nephew, J.E. Austen-Leigh, wrote "of events her life was singularly barren: few changes and no great crisis ever broke the smooth current of its course." (1870, p.2). Born in the late 18th century, Jane wrote about what she knew: the trials and tribulations of the middle class landed gentry in the early nineteenth century. She wrote with great humor and insight into this world of privilege tinged with economic uncertainty. Largely unknown during her lifetime, her works are now regarded amongst the finest in 19th century literature.

This pathfinder is designed to introduce the undergraduate English literature student to the life and work of Jane Austen. Sources listed below describe various resources in which to begin research, including biography, bibliography, and criticism. Students should review all the citations provided to formulate a search strategy. Starting points are listed, as well as good ready reference materials that will assist all readers of Austen's works. Lastly, I included a list of useful internet sites, including links providing full texts of her work and links that describe the film and television adaptations available.

Location of Sources
All sources cited here can be found in Davis Library - the majority are located on the 7th floor. Bibliographies are on the 8th floor. Call numbers are provided to assist retrieval. Searches should input the Library of Congress subject heading "Austen, Jane" as both an author and a subject for a complete listing of library holdings.

This pathfinder includes introductory materials about Jane Austen and her work; it does not attempt to provide information specific to each novel, however, I have directed the student to the authoritative collection of her novels for quick reference and a good read!

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"What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does."
(Emma, 1815)

Getting Started: Guides and Encyclopedias

Encyclopedia Britannica Online

Grey, J. David (Ed). The Jane Austen Handbook. London: Athlone Press, 1986.

M. Hardwick, M. A Guide to Jane Austen. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.

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"Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance."
(Pride and Prejudice, 1813)

Ready Reference Sources

G.L. Apperson. A Jane Austen Dictionary. New York, NY: Haskell House, 1932.

G. Leeming. Who's Who in Jane Austen and the Brontes. New York, NY: Taplinger Publishing Co., Inc., 1974.

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"But your mind is warped by an innate principle of integrity and therefore, not accessible to the cruel reasonings of family partiality or desire for revenge."
(Northanger Abbey, 1817)


Jane Austen wrote six complete novels, published between 1811 and 1817; her last two novels were published posthumously. Several "fragments" of earlier works are available, as well as the unfinished novel Sanditon she was working on when she died in 1817. Robert W. Chapman compiled the authoritative text of each novel in a six volume set.

R. W. Chapman (1965). The Novels of Jane Austen. London: Oxford University Press. Third Edition, originally published 1952.

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"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
(Pride and Prejudice, 1813)


Many biographies have been written about Jane Austen. Two of those listed below were written by family members, and thus objectivity may be a concern. The third is a recognized classic from the 20th century. I have also included a short work by Robert Chapman which is a self-described survey of Austen's life and work.

When reviewing these sources, it is impossible not to notice the use of similar anecdotes and descriptions of Austen. All the authors worked from the same limited sources to reconstruct Austen's life: letters, family recollections, and novels. However, each is presented in a unique way and emphasizes different aspects of her life and career.

J. E. Austen-Leigh. A Memoir of Jane Austen. London: Bentley, 1870.

W. and R.A. Austen-Leigh. Jane Austen: A Family Record. Revised and enlarged by Deidre Le Faye. Boston, MA: GK Hall & Co., 1989.

E. Jenkins. Jane Austen: A Biography. London: Victor Golancz LTD., 1938.

Robert W. Chapman (1948) Jane Austen, Facts and Problems. Oxford: University Press.

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"Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor -- which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony."
(Letter to Fanny Knight, March 13, 1817)


Many of Jane Austen's letters were destroyed by her sister Cassandra in an attempt to protect her privacy. Those that remain have been collected and published in various formats. The Austen-Leigh biographies cited above contain partial records of her letters; below are the two most frequently cited collections.

Lord Edward Brabourne (Ed.) Letters of Jane Austen. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1884.

R.W. Chapman. Jane Austen's Letters. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 1979 (originally published in 1952)

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"Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure."
(Mansfield Park, 1814)


The following sources provide an interesting history of the publications of Jane Austen's work. The first two editions predominantly cover publication notices of her works, reviews, and biographies written during the 19th century. I have also included a more recent bibliography that includes the numerous 20th century interpretations.

Sir Geoffrey Keynes. Jane Austen: A bibliography. London: Nonesuch Press, 1929.

R. W. Chapman.Jane Austen: A Critical Bibliography. London: Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1953

D. Gilson. A bibliography of Jane Austen. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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"And have you never known the pleasure and triumph of a lucky guess?"
(Emma, 1815)

Literary Criticism

The following critical essays are but a sampling of the works available. The student should be aware that such collections are also available on specific topics related to Austen themes, such as morality, comedy, feminism, and religion. The essays listed below are of a general nature and may inlcude discussion of the above topics as well.

I've included two works by B.C. Southam. One a collection of modern essays written during the 1960s; the other is a two volume "critical heritage" covering the periods 1812 to 1870 and 1870 to 1940.

B.C. Southam (Ed). The Critical Heritage. New York, NY: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.

B.C. Southam. Critical essays on Jane Austen. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1969.

G. Handley. Criticism in Focus. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1992.

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"Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then."
(Pride and Prejudice, 1813)

Indexes & Abstracts

Indexes and abstracts are the places to search for journal articles about Austen. The student will want to search in both subject-specific and general electronic and print indexes, to ensure comprehensive coverage (19th century periodicals are generally not included in the electronic databases listed below). Below is a sampling of the indexes available. As searching in these sources may yield an overwhelming number of articles, it may be necessary to narrow the search terms by publication date and/or key words if studying a particular theme.

Times Literary Supplement 1902-1939 Volume 1, and 1940-1980 Volume 1.

Nineteenth Century Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, 1890-1899, New York: H. W. Wilson, with supplemental indexing, 1900-1922.

Dissertation Abstracts International. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1938- .

Expanded Academic ASAP. InfoTrac, Information Access Co. 1994 - Dec 1997 (and backfile, 1980 - 1993).

MLA Bibliography of Books and Articles on the Modern Languages and Literatures, New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1919-.

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"One cannot be always laughing at a man without now and then stumbling on something witty."
(Pride and Prejudice, 1813)

Journal Articles

I decided to include three 19th century journal articles that are frequently cited in much of the literature about Jane Austen. These articles represent the first significant works of Austenian criticism. Two of the articles were published in Quarterly Review, a British publication that contains many entries about Austen and English literature. The three articles combined have been called the foundation of modern Austenian criticism. (Robert Chapman, 1953)

Sir Walter Scott (1815). Review of Emma. Quarterly Review, 16, October, 1815 (published March 1816).

Richard Whately (1821). Review of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Quarterly Review, 24, January, 1921.

Richard Simpson (1870). Review of the Memoir of Jane Austen. North British Review, 52, April, 1870.

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"One-half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other."
(Emma, 1815)

Internet Resources

The Jane Austen Collection at Goucher College houses one of the premier collections of Jane Austen's work and memorabilia in the United States. The site describes the collection which includes copies of first editions, translations, critical studies, and background literature of her life and work.

The Jane Austen Society of North America is a group dedicated to "study and celebrate the genius of Jane Austen". A "serious, but not stuffy" group, it publishes the annual journal Persuasions which can be accessed electronically, or in Davis (call number PR4036 .A15) and contains literary reviews, discussions of characters, reports and papers from the annual conference, articles written by members, and news of JASNA activities.

The Jane Austen Information Page is a fun way to learn about the author. It includes full text of her works, criticism, and biographical information as well as Jane Austen jokes and other amusing send-offs, like geneological charts of her characters. As with many web sites, it should not be considered an authoritative source, but may point a scholar towards other useful sources.

Jane Austen Film and Television Adaptations is a good place to find out which of her novels have been made adapted for film. It provides links to the home pages of many of the more recent sites, and includes video clips and downloadable pictures.

Click here for a copy of a chronology of Jane Austen's life, or join a Jane Austen Chat where fans and students discuss their insights and ask questions.

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"I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal."
Letter to her sister Cassandra, 12/24/1798

Introduction | Getting Started | Ready Reference | Novels | Biography | Letters
Bibliography | Literary Criticism | Indexes and Abstracts | Journal Articles | Internet Resources

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