Happy birthday Jane Austen!

Jane Austen was born on this day in 1775, 246 years ago . Today we are looking back to the night of her birth, celebrating her life and getting excited for our virtual birthday party!

Jane Austen was born on Saturday 16 December 1775. On that day the Hampshire naturalist Gilbert White wrote in his diary ‘fog, sun, sweet day.’ The Austens’ Rectory in Steventon was full of children – mostly boys – running about and clattering up and down the stairs. Sent out to play, they ran in the fields and skated on the frozen pond, their breath sending out clouds of mist into the cold air.

Back at home, Mrs Austen went into labour. It was a bitterly cold night. Jane Austen was born that evening, the seventh child in the family and the second girl. Her father wrote proudly to his sister: ‘We have now another girl, a present plaything for her sister Cassy and a future companion. She is to be Jenny’

Indeed, Jane and Cassandra were to be best friends throughout their lives, living together in Steventon, Bath, Southampton and finally here in Chawton; sharing a bedroom, sharing secrets and stories, writing to each other whenever they were apart.

Mrs Austen joked that as a little girl Jane worshipped her older sister so much that ‘if Cassandra’s head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too’.

Later, Jane shared the early drafts of her novels with her sister, and confided her ambitions to her. Cassandra supported her sister throughout her life, taking on the household management in Chawton so that Jane had time to focus on her writing, and finally accompanying her to Winchester in 1817 where Jane passed away at the age of 41.

Tonight we are celebrating the all-too-brief but wonderfully bright life of Jane Austen, and raising a glass to her on her birthday, with a virtual birthday party featuring special guests, talks, readings, music, fun and games. It’s a chance for the Austen community all over the world to come together and share their love of this extraordinary, brilliant and much-beloved writer. We’d love you to join us!

We are also celebrating Jane Austen’s birth in our winter exhibition, ‘Six Winters’: Scenes from Jane Austen’s Life & Imagination, which you can experience in person at Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, on online from the comfort of your own home. We would love to share it with you!