Rev. George Austen was by all accounts a handsome man. Anna LeFroy, Jane’s niece wrote,
I have always understood that he was considered extremely handsome, and it was a beauty which stood by him all his life. At the time when I have the most perfect recollection of him he must have been hard upon seventy, but his hair in its milk-whiteness might have belonged to a much older man. It was very beautiful, with short curls about the ears. His eyes were not large, but of a peculiar and bright hazel. My aunt Jane’s were something like them, but none of the children had precisely the same excepting my uncle Henry.”
George Austen was born in 1731. His mother died in childbirth and his father died a year after marrying a new wife, who did not want the responsibility of taking care of the young lad. George then lived with an aunt in Tonbridge and earned a Fellowship to study at St. John’s. Smart, ambitious, and self-made (with the support of his uncle Francis), he received a Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts, and a Bachelor of Divinity degree at Oxford. Considered good looking all his life, he was called “the handsome proctor” as he worked as an assistant chaplain, dean of arts, and Greek lecturer while going to school.
George first met Cassandra Leigh in Oxford when she was visiting her uncle Theophilus, a renowned scholar. After marrying Cassandra in Bath, George became rector in several country parishes, including Steventon. The family grew by leaps and bounds, and eventually he and Cassandra had six sons and two daughters.
Shortly after Jane was born, her father said: “She is to be Jenny, and seems to me as if she would be as like Henry, as Cassy is to Neddy.” But the little girl was known as Jane all her life.
By all accounts George and Cassandra Austen had a happy marriage. His annual income from the combined tithes of Steventon and the neighboring village of Deane was modest. With so many mouths to feed, the family was not wealthy. To augment the family income, George Austen opened a boarding school at Steventon Rectory for the sons of local gentlemen, and sold produce from his farm.
George Austen presents his son Edward to the Knights, who adopted him. This was a common practice in that era. Image from Chawton House.
Rev. Austen, a doting father to all his children, encouraged Cassandra and Jane to read from his extensive library, and taught his boys in his boarding school. For entertainment, the family read to each other, played games, and produced poetry, novels, and plays. James, the eldest son, an accomplished writer and poet, was considered to be the “writer” of the family, especially by his mother, Cassandra, who doted on him. George Austen was proud of his youngest daughter’s accomplishments, and tried to get First Impressions, the first draft of Pride and Prejudice published. The “Memoir of Jane Austen” by Edward Austen-Leigh contains a letter from George Austen to Mr. Cadell, publisher, dated November 1797, in which he describes the work as a “manuscript novel comprising three volumes, about the length of Miss Burney’s ‘Evelina'” and asks Mr. Cadell if he would like to see the work with a view to entering into some arrangement for its publication, “either at the author’s risk or otherwise.” Unfortunately, nothing came of this query, but P&P became hugely popular among the friends and family who read it before it was published. The original 3-part manuscript no longer exists, and a much shorter form of the novel was finally published in 1813, long after George’s death and only four short years before Jane’s fatal illness.
Rev. George Austen died unexpectedly in Bath on January 1, 1805, where the Austen family had moved after living in Steventon for over 30 years. This move did not sit well with Jane, who, as legend goes, fainted when she learned that the family was moving to Bath. (The silhouettes above are of George and Cassandra, who had not aged well). Rev. Austen did not linger long after falling ill, and on January 21, Jane Austen would write sorrowfully to her brother, Frank, one of two sailors in the family:
“We have lost an excellent Father. An illness of only eight and forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten and eleven. His tenderness as a father, who can do justice to?” – Sir Francis William Austen
Rev. Austen was buried in St. Swithin churchyard in Bath. The inscription on his grave reads:
Under this stone rests the remains of
the Revd. George Austen
Rector of Steventon and Deane in Hampshire
who departed this life
the 1st. of January 1805
aged 75 years.”
Double click on this grave marker to read the words. (From: Find a Grave Memorial. Image of George and his grave is from this site.)
- George Austen: Portrait Vignettes of Jane Austen’s Father – my other Father’s Day post
- The Quintessential Georgian Parents: George and Cassandra Austen – execellent article on JASA
- Read about Jane’s mother, Cassandra Austen nee Leigh on this site. Click here.
- The Reverend George and Mrs. Austen
The Austen Family:
- Jane Austen: A Picture Taken
- Austen Family Genealogy
- Cassandra Austen: Jane’s Supporter, Confidante, and Helpmate
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Rev. James Austen 1765-1819 – comprehensive information about James Austen on Austenprose
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Rev. Henry Austen – 1771 -1850 – Henry was Jane Austen’s favorite brother
- Edward Austen Knight: A tightwad or a man with heavy responsibilities?
- Jane Austen’s Siblings – Charles John Austen -1779-1852
- About Jane Austen: Her Life and Her Novels