December 16 in Literary History: Jane Austen Born

The most significant events in the history of books on the 16th of December

1775: Jane Austen is born. As well as Pride and Prejudice and the five other full-length novels she completed, Austen also wrote a number of other interesting works of fiction (and non-fiction, of a sort): she wrote a History of England while she was still a teenager. In 1791, in her sixteenth year, Austen penned a jocular ‘History of England’ as a parody of the schoolbooks on history she had encountered in her (largely home-schooled) education. The tone is wry and ironic throughout – an early sign of the trademark irony that is found in her mature work.

1787: Mary Russell Mitford is born. The reputation of this English author, poet, and playwright rests on Our Village, Austen2a series of sketches of rural life which she wrote for The Lady’s Magazine. Of her plays, Rienzi (1828) was probably the best and most successful.

1863: George Santayana is born Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás. A Spanish-born American philosopher and writer, he is remembered for his wise pronouncements, most famously ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’

1900: V. S. Pritchett is born. A novelist and critic, Pritchett’s most enduring work of literary criticism is The Living Novel (1946).

1917: Arthur C. Clarke is born. A prolific author of science fiction stories and novels, he wrote the screenplay and novelisation for the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The film itself was partly inspired by Clarke’s short story ‘The Sentinel’. Along with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov, Clarke was one of the ‘Big Three’ of science fiction in the mid-twentieth century. In 1974, Clarke predicted the internet of the year 2001.

1928: Philip K. Dick is born. Along with Clarke, one of two great science-fiction novelists born on December 16. Dick’s novels and stories have inspired a number of films, from Minority Report to Total Recall and, most famously, Blade Runner (based on Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). Aptly there is a life-size android version of Philip K. Dick, built in 2005 by David Hanson. It has been christened ‘Robo-Dick’.

1932: Quentin Blake is born. Blake’s most famous collaboration was with Roald Dahl, whose books for children Blake illustrated.

Image: Jane Austen (author unknown, 1873).

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