Jane makes one of her first appearances in the newspapers in on 6th September 1813. In an event only publicised in the local newspaper the Hampshire Chronicle Jane donated one of the lower amounts- half a guinea (10 shilling and sixpence, a week’s average wage for a urban worker ) to the newly established Basingstoke and Alton branch of the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge- an organisation which did what it said on the tin. It produced cheap Bibles and tried to encourage moral reformation. To subscribe to it meant a desire to be respectable. To have your money accepted and publicised in the newspaper was an acknowledgement of your social position.
Jane’s position in local society can be inferred from the details in the newspaper. All the committee members were male; Jane, like the other women on the list, were not committee members but additional subscribers, who made a donation rather than purchasing a yearly membership. It is highly unlikely that Jane attended the meeting at the Bolton Arms Inn- and this was an age when many respectable women did attend meetings of charities. Her letters to Cassandra around that time suggest that she may not have even been in the county
There are two references; a Miss Austen and a Miss Jane Austen. The former would be a form of address for an older sibling.
Jane had to wait until death to become newsworthy again. Once again, it was a local event. This notice appeared on the last page of the Hampshire Chronicle as news from July 19th 1817, the day after her death
Perhaps interestingly, this was not a paid for obituary but a piece of local news; her late father was previously a local cleric and it is unlikely that Jane would have received a mention if she had been a daughter of a local shoe maker.
On July 30th, a more or less identical notice appeared in the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, with the omission of her home address.
The newspapers are quiet until 1832; on Christmas Day 1832 the national newspaper the Morning Post made a reference to Jane. This was an advertisement- with the heading “Miss Jane Austen’s novels” ( in the plural, so there must have been some understanding that there was more than one.) Richard Bentley, the publisher was presenting Sense and Sensibility as part of a series called The Standard Novels and Romances; there were two more identical advertisements, both in London papers, in the week before publication.
The Spectator magazine must have got hold of an early copy, as it has reviewed it by December 31st. The Morning Post reported on its findings. The paper noted their length of time since her death “ the public took time to make up its mind”. It also hints that the general reader was engaged before the critics
The response to Sense and Sensibility meant that 1833 was Jane’s best year in the papers. By January the Hampshire Chronicle was rediscovering one of their own; “the novel affords diversified scenery of real life, and abounds in moral sentiment, conveyed in the most amusing incidents”.
By March the Morning Post had reached its own, mostly favourable opinion. It took a few pages of reading, but the paper was impressed by her “natural fluency and unsophisticated earnestness” Her novels rang true- they had “vraisemblance” and knowledge of human character. The was, the reviewer suggested, the ”new novelist of domestic truth”.
In April 1833, Volume 25 of Standard Novels and Romances included Emma. In July, Volume 27 included Mansfield Park and Bentley had sold over 100,000 copies of his series and Austen was clearly his star. The Scotsman liked Mansfield Park – “an admirable domestic tale…at which Miss Austen was has been long acknowledge as unrivalled”-clearly her books were being read in the 1820s by the public before the reviewers in the newspapers.
By August, Pride and Prejudice was the published in Volume 30. In October, all six novels were published in a cheap edition by Bentley, placing Jane on a par with some very well know Regency writers and poets….
My book on the reality of Jane Austen’s Britain is here.
Please consider asking your local UK library to stock this.