But she received her only proposal of marriage. Ever since they both were children, Jane had known Harris Bigg-Wither, an unattractive, large, plain-looking heir to a large fortune, who stuttered and spoke boorishly without humor, tact or style. She agreed to his proposal since marriage was a practical solution to her family’s financial woes. She could provide her parents a comfortable old age and give them and Cassandra a home in a cottage on Bigg-Wither’s extensive family estates.

However, all night long Jane fretted. By morning’s light, she realized she did not love him. She asked to be released from the engagement – which infuriated and humiliated him. Years later, Jane wrote to her niece, Fanny Knight, who had asked for romantic advice: "having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection."

Jane started but did not complete a new novel, The Watsons, about an invalid clergyman with little money and unmarried daughters. Then her own father took ill, becoming, as Austen wrote to her brother Frank, "quite insensible of his own state." When he died, Jane, Cassandra and their mother were left in desperate financial straits. Jane stopped work on The Watsons since the story too closely mirrored her life.

Fortunately, her brothers were doing well. In early 1809, Edward provided his mother and sisters a rural cottage. The Austen women settled in, but did not socialize. Jane's niece Anna would write: "It was a very quiet life, but they were great readers, and besides the housekeeping our aunts occupied themselves in working with the poor and in teaching some girl or boy to read or write."

Henry persuaded a London publisher, Thomas Egerton, to publish Sense and Sensibility. The first edition did not use her byline. Book reviews of the anonymous work were flattering and it sold out, providing Jane with financial independence for the first time in her life. Egerton then published Pride and Prejudice – this time with the byline “by the author of Sense and Sensibillity.” It was an immediate success. Later, Egerton obtained the rights to Mansfield Park and it, too, became a bestseller. Mansfield Park makes the first recorded mention of baseball, described as one of the main characters’ favorite pastimes.

Britain’s crown prince, who would become King George IV, loved her books, talked about them to friends and invited Jane to his home. When the painfully shy Jane did visit, the prince’s official librarian, James Stanier Clarke, hinted broadly that Jane should dedicate her next book – what would become the blockbuster Emma – to the prince. However, Jane thoroughly disliked the superficial George. She later wrote a short piece, Plan of a Novel, which was a satiric, biting outline of the "perfect novel" based on the obnoxious librarian's absurd suggestions.

However, the first edition of Emma is dedicated to the prince.

Jane described her novels as her children.

She became an international sensation. Her fans referred to themselves as Austenites and Janeites. Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Jane Austen Society of North America began holding annual meetings – and still does. Mark Twain, the bestselling author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, let it be known that he detested Austen’s works, once declaring that that an ideal library is one “that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

Virginia Woolf wrote about her, "Here was a woman about the year 1800 writing without hate, without bitterness, without fear, without protest, without preaching. That was how Shakespeare wrote."

Literary critic Gary Kelly observed, "Jane Austen is one of the few novelists who is regarded as a 'classic' and yet is widely read." There have been many period film and television adaptations of all six of her novels. Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and its three sequels are admittedly based on Pride and Prejudice. The film Clueless with Alicia Silverstone is an adaptation of Emma.

But the most startling recent incarnation has been the New York Times bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, on which author Seth Grahame-Smith shares the by-line with Jane. Entertainment Weekly has given Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a thumbs up. Library Journal recommends it. Before it was published in the United Kingdom, pre-sales required a second printing. It has now been published as a Random House/Del Rey graphic novel. The film version was originally planned to be financed and distributed through Lionsgate, with Natalie Portman in the lead role, but she decided instead to serve as a producer. Screen Gems has purchased the U.S. rights.