Happy 240th birthday, Miss Austen!
Obviously, we all must celebrate appropriately (watching the 1995 Pride and Prejudice would be a good start), and rejoice in Jane's birthday.
Jane was born on December 16, 1775 to Rev. George and Mrs. Cassandra Austen of Steventon. She was the second youngest of eight children: James, George, Edward, Henry Thomas, Cassandra Elizabeth, Francis William (Frank), and Charles John. Frank and Charles became naval admirals, and James and Henry became clergymen like their father. (Edward was adopted by a wealthy family that needed an heir, and had no profession.) Henry was Austen's favorite brother, and he became her literary agent later in life. Of course, Cassandra was Jane's best friend.
While Jane did accept one proposal of marriage, she reneged it the day after, and remained unmarried her entire life. Cassandra was engaged, but after her fiance died, she lived with Jane and her mother for the rest of her life. (Rev. Austen died in Bath in January 1805.) The Austen women were financially supported by Jane's brothers, and eventually Jane's own income from her books must have certainly helped their financial situation, at least a bit.
Most of Jane's novels were written and published while she lived at Chawton Cottage, from 1809 until her death on July 18, 1817. She is buried in Winchester Cathedral, and her books have been continuously in print since 1833.
In addition to her writing, she was an excellent piano player and dancer. She often traveled to visit her brothers and assist their wives with their children, and in the delivery of her nieces and nephews, and of course she had duties in her own home, which she shared with her mother and Cassandra.
While Jane said her writing was, "the little bit of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush", she has become an integral part of Western Literature. Harold Bloom has placed her among the greatest Western writers of all time, and there is a wealth of writing about her, her life, her family, and her novels.
Her work may not be as stormy as the Brontes', or as social conscious as Dickens', but her fine pieces of ivory have certainly brought pleasure to many people over the past century and change. So, happy birthday Jane!