In those days it wasn't the norm to focus education on female members of the family. And in Jane's case there were plenty of brothers all vying for attention – six in all. But the Austen girls were given an education and Jane grew up to be, like her favorite character Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, an avid reader. It is rare to find a writer who does not like to read and Jane displayed her abilities from a very early age, penning little plays and histories much to the delight of her family and friends.
"…loss of virtue in a female is irretrievable - that one false step involves her in endless ruin - that her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful." Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice
But was she entrepreneurial in spirit? In a way she could be considered so. She submitted her works to publishers as 'by a lady', not revealing her name. Some believe this was to save her family from any embarrassment about having a writer of novels in their midst. Still she was not so concerned about reputation as to refrain from trying to get her work published.
Mr Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for every thing announced it to be from a circulating library), he started back, and begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Pride and Prejudice
It is probably true to say that it was the writer/storyteller instinct that was strongest in Austen. Thoughts of publication may well have come later. If she had aspirations to earn a lot of money from her ventures, and it is doubtful that she did, then she was to be sorely disappointed. She made only a small amount of revenue from her books in her lifetime.
"Such a forward young lady may well frighten the men." Miss Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park
Nowadays of course things would be very different and a writer like Jane Austen would achieve the deserved acclaim and no considerable doubt income from writing her books – thankfully without any need to hide her real identity or feel frowned upon by her family.
So what can today's female entrepreneur learn from Jane Austen?
If there's one thing that comes to mind it's the fact that women can and always have managed to fare in areas that are considered the domain of men, even when doing so was against the odds. Publishing and the literary world are no longer seen as predominantly male territory. However, despite female emancipation there are still industries that are mostly occupied by men. That's no reason for women to rule them out as options though.
In fact sometimes what are considered male businesses can be successfully run by women, with a twist that appeals to mainly to a female clientele. Cases in point are the building, plumbing and decorating businesses that are set up and operated by women. The services these companies supply are favored by women who aren't comfortable with inviting unknown men into their houses to carry out maintenance tasks. While this is a sad indictment of the times we live in it does present many opportunities for women which were unheard of years ago.