Some people say that Jane Austen’s genius in creating the perfect romance is thanks to her own romantic experiences. That she experienced great love, enabled her to create such powerful romances as Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.
However, Jane herself made it quite plain that, in her writing, she did not copy individuals from her own experience but created her characters from imagination. According to her nephew James Edward, her family members never recognised any individuals in her characters. Jane declared that “I am too proud of my gentlemen to admit that they were only Mr A. or Colonel B.” Perhaps she never met a great love and that is why she made them up?
As her niece Catherine wrote, “her books were her children”. Jane was aware that, after marriage, her life would be a stretch of continuous pregnancy and child-bearing, and having seen her sisters-in-law suffer from bad health and even die of childbirth, she was probably not attracted to the idea of motherhood. She certainly enjoyed flirting, as we hear from various sources, but she was aware that the only way she could continue her writing career was to remain single.
At that day and age, remaining single can’t have been an easy choice to make – Jane’s acceptance and immediate rejection of Harris Bigg-Wither is proof of that. With financial insecurity in the horizon, the life of a spinster was hardly a lucrative prospect for any lady. But our Jane seems to have had an early feminist streak in her; she was proud of her “children” and the fact that she could make money through writing; she loved her freedom.
Had she met a great love and had marriage worked out for her, things might have been different. However, according to her niece Caroline, romances never caused her great sorrow. And - unless Jane was an extremely private person - we can assume that those who knew her well – her family members – would be the best people to rely on for any judgment on her feelings or character.
'Austen-Leigh, J. E. (2002) A Memoir of Jane Austen and Other Family Recollections. Oxford World Classics.
De La Faye, D./Austen-Leigh, W. (2004) Jane Austen - A Family record. CUP.
De La Faye, D. (1995) Jane Austen’s Letters. OUP.
Norman, A. (2009) Jane Austen: An Unrequited Love. History Pr Ltd.
Spence, J. (2003) Becoming Jane Austen. Hambledon and London.
Tomalin, C. (1997) Jane Austen – A Life. Viking.