How Did Jane Austen Write Great Novels Without Much Life Experience?

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Answer by Stephanie Vardavas, 500 books behind in my to-read list:

Jane Austen lived her entire too-short life (1775-1817) as the genteelly impoverished daughter of a clergyman in rural England, with the exception of a few years’ residence in the glittering metropolis of Bath (which she hated) and some visits to London. She was engaged once, for less than 24 hours (maybe less than 12), and never married. She may have been in love or close to it once or twice (although certainly she was not in love with her short-term fiancé), but she was almost certainly a virgin. She lived a generally quiet and retired life, with little in the way of “life experience” as that is understood in the modern world.


Yet by the age of 20, she had written a brilliant and often hilarious epistolary novel, Lady Susan, whose subject matter was considered so risqué (an unscrupulous and calculating female sexual predator) that it was not published until 50 years after her death. 

She wrote the first drafts of the books we know as Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice before she was 22 years old.

She was something of a wallflower in life, mostly an observer of those around her, but from her observations of the rather limited society in which she circulated she drew insights that helped her create six immortal novels (in addition to Lady Susan) that are pointed, wickedly accurate, timeless accounts of human nature and behavior.

Also illustrative of her genius, in her letters, she gave insightful and practical life advice to her young nieces, cousins, and friends, relating to areas of life with which she personally had little to no direct experience.

She’s a miracle, basically.

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