Jane Austen's life is striking for the contrast between the great works she wrote in secret and the outward appearance of being quite dull and ordinary. Austen was born in the small English town of Steventon in Hampshire, and educated at home by her clergyman father. She was deeply devoted to her family. For a short time, the Austens lived in the resort city of Bath, but when her father died, they returned to Steventon, where Austen lived until her death at the age of 41. Austen was drawn to literature early, she began writing novels that satirized both the writers and the manners of the 1790's. Her sharp sense of humor and keen eye for the ridiculous in human behavior gave her works lasting appeal. She is at her best in such books as Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1816), in which she examines and often ridicules the behavior of small groups of middle-class characters. Austen relies heavily on conversations among her characters to reveal their personalities, and at times her novels read almost like plays. Several of them have, in fact, been made into films.
Scott was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, the son of a writer. As a young boy, he contracted polio and was sent to his grandfather's farm to recuperate. While there, he came to know and love the Border country, which figures prominently in his work. Scott began his literary career by writing metrical tales. "The Lay of the Last Minstrel," "Marmion," and "The Lady of the Lake" made him the most popular poet of his day. Sixty-five hundred copies of "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" were sold in the first three years, a record sale for poetry. His later romances in verse, "The Vision of Don Roderick," "Rokeby," and "The Lord of the Isles," met with waning interest owing to the rivalry of Byron, whose more passionate poetic romances superseded Scott's in the public favor. Scott then abandoned poetry for prose. In 1814 he anonymously published a historical novel, Waverly, or, Sixty Years Since, the first of the series known as the Waverley novels. He wrote 23 novels anonymously during the next 13 years. The first master of historical fiction, Scott wrote novels that are historical in background rather than in character: A fictitious person always holds the foreground. In their historical sequence, the Waverley novels range in setting from the year 1090, the time of the First Crusade, to 1700, the period covered in St. Roman's Well (1824), set in a Scottish watering place. Scott wrote novels covering every period of European history from the eleventh to nineteenth centuries, except the thirteenth century. Scott's last years were plagued by illness, yet in 1831 and 1832 he toured the Mediterranean aboard a government frigate. He died at Abbotsford soon after his return and was buried in the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey.