In 1783, Jane and her older sister Cassandra went briefly to be taught by a Mrs. Cawley (the sister of one of their uncles), who lived first in Oxford and then moved to Southampton. They were brought home after an infectious disease broke out in Southampton. In 1785-1786 Jane and Cassandra went to the Abbey boarding school in Reading, which apparently bore some resemblance to Mrs. Goddard's casual school in Emma. (Jane was considered almost too young to benefit from the school, but their mother is reported to have said that "if Cassandra's head had been going to be cut off, Jane would have hers cut off too".) This was Jane Austen's only education outside her family. Within their family, the two girls learned drawing, to play the piano, etc.
Jane Austen did a fair amount of reading, of both the serious and the popular literature of the day (her father had a library of 500 books by 1801, and she wrote that she and her family were "great novel readers, and not ashamed of being so"). However decorous she later chose to be in her own novels, she was very familiar with eighteenth century novels, such as those of Fielding and Richardson, which were much less inhibited than those of the later (near-)Victorian era. She frequently reread Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison, and also enjoyed the novels of Fanny Burney (a.k.a. Madame D'Arblay). She later got the title for Pride and Prejudice from a phrase in Burney's Cecilia, and when Burney's Camilla came out in 1796, one of the subscribers was "Miss J. Austen, Steventon". The three novels that she praised in her famous "Defense of the Novel" in Northanger Abbey were Burney's Cecilia and Camilla, and Maria Edgeworth's Belinda. (See also the diagram of Jane Austen's literary influences).
Jane Austen wrote her Juvenilia from 1787 to 1793; they include many humorous parodies of the literature of the day, such as Love and Freindship, and are collected in three manuscript volumes. They were originally written for the amusement of her family, and most of the pieces are dedicated to one or another of her relatives or family friends.
Earlier versions of the novels eventually published as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey were all begun and worked on from 1795 to 1799 (at this early period, their working titles were Elinor and Marianne, First Impressions, and Susan respectively). Lady Susan was also probably written during this period. In 1797, First Impressions/Pride and Prejudice was offered to a publisher by Jane Austen's father, but the publisher declined to even look at the manuscript.
; Jane Austen would have been 27 (the age of Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion) during 1802-1803, and a crucial scene in Persuasion takes place in Lyme.
A more clearly-known incident occurred on December 2nd. 1802, when Jane Austen and Cassandra were staying with the Bigg family at Manydown, near Steventon. Harris Bigg-Wither, who was six years younger than herself, proposed to Jane, and she accepted, though she did not love him (see "Marriage and the Alternatives"). However, the next day she thought better of it, and she and Cassandra showed up unexpectedly at Steventon (where their brother James was now the clergyman), insisting they be taken out of the neighbourhood to Bath the next day. This was socially embarrassing, but her heart does not seem to have been seriously affected -- Mr. Bigg-Withers, though prosperous, was "big and awkward".
Notoriously, none of Jane Austen's letters to Cassandra from June 1801 to August 1804, in which she probably would have alluded to these incidents, have been preserved. In the end, Jane Austen (like Cassandra), never married.
In 1803 Jane Austen actually sold Northanger Abbey (then titled Susan) to a publisher, for the far-from-magnificent sum of £10; however, the publisher chose not to publish it (and it did not actually appear in print until fourteen years later). It was probably toward the end of the Bath years that Jane Austen began The Watsons, but this novel was abandoned in fragmentary form.
In January 1805 her father died. As would have been the case for the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice if Mr. Bennet had died, the income due to the remaining family (Mrs. Austen and her two daughters, the only children still at home) was considerably reduced -- since most of Mr. Austen's income had come from clerical "livings" which lapsed with his death. So they were largely dependent on support from the Austen brothers (and a relatively small amount of money left to Cassandra by her fiancé), summing to a total of about £450 yearly. Later in 1805, Martha Lloyd (sister of James Austen's wife) came to live with Mrs. Austen, Cassandra, and Jane, after her own mother had died.
In addition to her literary work, she often visited her brothers and their families, and other relatives and friends, and they sometimes came to Southampton or Chawton. She had a reputation for being able to keep young children entertained, and was also attached to her oldest nieces Fanny and Anna. In a letter of October 7th 1808, she wrote about her niece Fanny: "I found her... just what you describe, almost another Sister, -- & could not have supposed that a neice would ever have been so much to me". In a letter of October 30th 1815 she wrote to her young niece Caroline, after her sister Anna's first child had been born: "Now that you are become an Aunt, you are a person of some consequence & must excite great interest whatever you do. I have always maintained the importance of Aunts as much as possible, & I am sure of your doing the same now."
On April 27th she made her will (leaving almost everything to Cassandra), and on May 24 she was moved to Winchester for medical treatment. She died there on Friday, July 18th 1817, aged 41. It was not known then what had caused her death, but it seems likely that it was Addison's disease.
She was buried in Winchester Cathedral on July 24th 1817.