Even though several persistent calls for the intentional selection of historically significant women in psychobiography have been made, many psychobiographers continue to select men as their subjects. Although there is an increased diversification of psychobiographical subjects internationally, psychobiographers often deem men as more historically significant than women. It was, therefore, crucial to select an influential and historically significant woman, such as Jane Austen, for this study.
Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an elusive, yet a highly influential woman who lived and wrote during the Georgian and Regency eras in pre-industrialised England. In her sociohistorical context, which was riddled with the same patriarchal attitudes that guide the more subtle sexism in contemporary society, she managed to amalgamate her life-roles to form a career. Although she only published four novels, struggled with various illnesses, and remained virtually anonymous to the public during her lifetime, many researchers acknowledged Jane Austen’s status as the first modern novelist. However, despite the enormous amount of scholarship surrounding the life of Jane Austen, her career development has not been systematically studied from a psychological framework. Therefore, the researcher purposefully selected the influential and enigmatic Jane Austen for this study and aimed to uncover and reconstruct her career development in-depth and in context using Donald E. Super’s approach to career development.
The study aimed to explore and describe Jane Austen’s career development across her life-span. The objective was to analytically generalise Jane Austen’s unique life as a psychobiographical single case to Super’s Life-Span, Life-Space theory. To achieve the mentioned aim and objective in this study, the researcher utilised Alexander’s data reduction strategies to collect, organise, and analyse the abundance of biographical and autobiographical data on Jane Austen. In order to reduce the substantial amount of historical data, the researcher asked the data questions and used Alexander’s nine indicators of saliency to extract important information. The data was also systematically categorised and analysed according to a psychohistorical matrix, which allowed the researcher to extract data relevant to both Jane Austen’s life-stages and the life-roles she played.
The findings of this study suggested that Jane Austen progressed through three of five sequential life-stages, as well as the respective substages as proposed by Super’s framework. More specifically, during the growth stage, Jane Austen managed to achieve four career-related psychosocial tasks, namely the prevocational-curiosity, fantasy, interest, and capacity subtasks. During the exploration stage, Jane Austen reached the milestones of specifying, crystallising, and actualising her career choice. Following this, Jane Austen experienced substantial difficulties in the trial substage of the establishment stage due to the role-strains and role-spillage that occurred from her various life-roles. Nevertheless, Jane Austen managed to stabilise her life-roles by increasing her productivity and success in her role as worker. The findings of this study also suggested Jane Austen’s career commitment gradually increased during her life-span, before her general decline and death at the age of 41. Besides contributing to the research literature about Jane Austen’s life and work, this study provided a single case towards the analytic generalisation to Super’s Life-Space, Life-Span theory. Therefore, the study’s value is found in the expansion of the psychobiographical pool, as well as the in-depth, longitudinal analysis of a female author’s career development. Based on the limitations of this study, recommendations are also made for future research.
Keywords: Psychobiography, Jane Austen, career development, careerography, Donald Super, life-space, life-span, life-roles, life-stages, career commitment, Georgian era, Regency era, Alexander