On this day, Jane Austen‘s birthday, it is interesting to reflect upon Jane’s birth. She was born in the December cold of 1775, sixteenth of December in the little village of Steventon, in Hampshire in England. She was her mother’s seventh child and she was born at home, without a doctor but with the help of a sister-in-law. Perhaps surprisingly for us, and our assumptions of the past, and to the delight of today’s breast feeding adherents, she wasbreast fed by her own mother. I would have assumed a wet nurse would have been a part of the accepted practice of the genteel class but Cassandra Austen, Jane’s mother, was thirty six and had definite ideas about breast feeding being good for her babies.
Jane was helped into the world by her father’s sister Philadelphia Hancock (nee Austen). Cassandra stayed in her bed focusing on her new baby from the birth until Christmas day, and then she didn’t leave the house and resume her chores until February. Cassandra Austen, a busy working mother, was responsible for many of the school, farm and home duties. She was, however, able to rest for three months with all of her normal chores undertaken by her sister-in-law, Philadlephia. (I cannot help but contrast this state of affairs with the modern world where women leave hospital to assume sole responsibility for their baby the next day.)
Two hundred-plus years later, Austen is revered around the world. As I sit on the other side of the world from her birthplace, on a hot day, I reflect on her writing: despite years and distance Austen can speak equally to her peers, to the Janeites in the trenches of the Somme during that dreadful, wasteful world war and to a modern audience. Now that is a birthday worth celebrating.
Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen A Life. London, UK : Viking, 1997
- Happy Birthday to Jane Austen! (sarahemsley.com)
- Happy Birthday, Jane Austen – 16 December 1775 – What I Learned from Jane Austen. (reginajeffers.wordpress.com)