(16 December 1775 – 18 July 1817)
Jane Austen was an English novelist, whose brilliantly witty, elegantly structured satirical fiction marks the transition in English literature from 18th century neo-classicism to 19th century romanticism. Although not extremely popular or wealthy during her short life, Jane Austen captured the romance in her works that embodied the literary Romance Movement of her time. Not only has she been credited with developing complex characterization, she created novels that mirrored women’s position in society of the time – where marriage was seen as a woman’s only salvation.
Remaining unwed and relying on her parents for most of her life, Jane had two brothers who became clergymen and two others who joined the British Naval Forces. Her sister Cassandra, named after their mother, was a helpful assistant to her sister Jane’s novel ideas. The two would discuss the characters, their roles, their lives, and in turn make them seem as ‘real’ to them as they do to readers of her novels. Austen’s only educational background came from a relative and a brief attendance at the Reading Ladies Boarding School.
Although Austen led a calm and comfortable life, her dislike for the Bath area was reflected in the characters of her novels in which the protagonist lives in Bath and cannot stand her situation. When her father died, Austen, her sister and mother all moved to Southampton and finally to Chawton, where they all lived in a small cottage. Throughout her different living situations, Austen continued to write her novels. And, even though they were published anonymously at that time, some stated her works, and especially her character sketches were brilliant, equivalent to that of any of Shakespeare’s multifarious creations.
Most of Jane Austen’s novels, the most popular being Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma all are love stories about the inner, complex emotions of women of the day. Her novels also lend themselves to themes of tragic fate from overzealous planning of one’s own destiny. Her novels also touch upon a society forcing women to search for security as they received no inheritance according to early English law. And, even though Austen passed away at the early age 41, her novels remain an intricate part of any academic study program of English Literature. And, many of her novels have become successful movies.
Helen Beatrix Potter
(28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943)
Helen was an English author, illustrator, mycologist and conservationist best known for children’s books featuring anthropomorphic characters such as in The Tale of Peter Rabbit which celebrated the British landscape and rural lifestyle.
Born into a privileged household, Potter was educated by several private governesses until she was eighteen. Along with her younger brother, Walter Bertram, she grew up with few friends outside her large extended family.
In her thirties, Potter published the highly successful children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit publishing it privately, and then in 1902 as a small, three-color illustrated book with Frederick Warne and Company. Between 1902 and 1918 she published over twenty popular children’s books making her the best known children’s author of her time.With the proceeds from the books and a small legacy from an aunt, Potter bought Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey, a tiny village in the English Lake District near Ambleside. Over the next several decades, she purchased additional farms to preserve the unique hill country landscape. In 1913 at the age of 47 she married William Heelis, a respected local solicitor from Hawkshead. Potter became a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep and a prosperous farmer keenly interested in land preservation. She continued to write and illustrate childrens’ books for Warne after her marriage until the duties of land management and diminishing eyesight made it difficult to continue. Beatrix Potter published over twenty-three books; the best are those written between 1902 and 1918. She is the best-selling childrens’ book author of all times.