At the heart of Jane Austen's story lies a mystery: how a woman of genteel poverty, the seventh child of a country clergyman, an unmarried spinster for whom life was often a struggle against the indignities of financial dependency, could have produced works of such magnificent warmth and wisdom. Valerie Grosvenor Myer's flawless research proves Austen's books grew from the preoccupations of her social set - respectability, financial security, and most of all, marriage. It is a truth universally acknowledged, begins Pride and Prejudice, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. In that one line are revealed the principal forces at work in Austen's novels - and in the world from which they were drawn. For many middle-class women of Austen's day, marriage was paradoxically the only method of achieving independence. Marriage could also be a life sentence. Myer shows that by many accounts Austen was pretty and flirtatious (though occasionally also sharp-tongued), and the object of at least two proposals, but obstinate in her refusal to marry for other than love. Her obstinacy condemned her to reliance on her family for financial support. As Myer points out, it also enabled Austen to write her immortal novels. Using letters, family memories, and of course the novels themselves, Myer provides a detailed and revealing look at Jane Austen - her relationship with her beloved sister Cassandra, her devotion to and pride in her brothers and their children (who remembered Aunt Jane with warm affection), and her independence of mind and spirit. Austen's fondest dream was to establish herself not as another silly female novelist, but as a serious andself-supporting writer. She reveled in the reviews of those of the novels published - anonymously - during her brief lifetime. Yet as Myer shows, no one, least of all Austen herself, could have imagined her posthumous popularity.