“L’aimable Jane,” by unknown artist, National Portrait Gallery, London (1810-15). “Kind Jane,” a shadowy figure we barely know.
I have long been interested in Jane Austen, although, compared to scholars of Austen’s work, I know very little about the details of her life.
That which I do know of her, along with many people, is assumed from reading her novels, as well as what remains of her letters. Most of her personal documents, including letters, were destroyed by her sister, Cassandra.
Jane Austen wrote during the height of literary Romanticism in England, and is, perhaps, considering her careful writing and rational tone of voice, over-identified with the concept of romanticism because of her chosen subject, which has become known in literary analysis as the “marriage plot.”
There is an irony to the fact that Austen is categorized as a writer of romantic literature, and yet is also characterized as possessing a realistic, ironic voice. Her perspective on life borders on the cynical at times, and her wit can be considered biting and possibly even a little cruel. Jane is renowned for having been highly rational, and her literary influences, voices of writers she admired, shine through her writing.
She is known to have read and been influenced by philosophers and classical authors, discussing intellectual subjects freely with her family. Her ‘romantic’ nature, then, was expressed through a filter of post-Enlightenment rationality, at the same time that any inherent emotional sense of romanticism must have been kept firmly under control.
This motif of control-versus-loss of control is often seen in the ways her characters handle romantic challenges Austen sets for them during the many months of emotional turmoil while waiting to find out if he does or doesn’t truly love them. Austen’s plots ultimately find ways to test her characters’ beliefs and principles, revealing their true nature as the story develops. Ironically, we shall never know Austen’s true nature for certain; we are left to guess at who she really was. This leaves a lot of room for us to imagine and create the character we think of as Jane Austen, and to shape her in our own minds, just as surely as she shaped her own literary characters.
Jane’s Neptune conjunct Virgo Ascendent, in square to natal Sun in her fourth house, implies that any inherent romanticism she might have felt with Neptune at the Ascendent would have been modified by its location in Virgo. That a ‘true romantic’ never married is, perhaps, the ultimate irony, but this irony begets the question: to what extent can we see Austen as a “true” romantic?
She certainly did not seem to see the world through the rose-colored glasses so often attributed to Neptune on the Ascendent, and that lack of sentimentality brought by Virgo on the Ascendent, combined with the square to Sun in Sagittarius’ insouciance and independent spirit, might have precluded conventional marriage.
Although I can’t show it on the above chart, her Part of Marriage at 4˚34′ Virgo falls in her 12th house, forming a T-square with 3rd house Mercury in Sagittarius at 6˚13′ in opposition to 9th house Uranus in Gemini at 3˚51′. The 9th-12th house square on its own is an introspective square in general; we tend to see introspection as a personality trait when there are strong 9th-12th house squares.
That the Part of Marriage activates the opposition of Uranus and Mercury tells me that marriage would have had a profound affect on her personal freedom—this is obvious, and always true in every situation, but for Jane, I suspect it would have seriously altered her identity as a writer, since T-squares are inherently brittle aspects, leading one to extremes of behavior. Her freedom to write would probably have been lost if she’d married, so this chart, with its focus on independence (both Virgo and Sagittarius are usually concerned with freedom and intellectual, if not physical, independence) combined with the ever-difficult T-square, this time to the Part of Marriage, provides possible insight into her deeper nature.
With Part of Marriage in the 12th, it’s possible that her idea(l)s about forming a perfect union prevented her from making do with the mundane reality of marriage. Perhaps, with the combination of Neptune, 12th house, and Virgo, her ideals were impossible to attain on the material plane, and that she would never be satisfied with “real” marriage, preferring to imagine the “perfect” marriage with all its various sacrifices (sacrifice being a relevant theme for the 12th house, and for the Virgo/Pisces axis in general).
In another day and age, someone born with this chart might have lead a very different life, with more possibilities for romance, and less concern about traditional marriage ties. It seems telling that when presented with a marriage proposal, she is known to have baulked at marriage. She accepted her lover one day, and is known to have changed her mind the next. The quixotic behavior of a double mutable, or perhaps something more mysterious, brought on by deeper psychological realms we cannot pierce? We shall never know for sure, but astrology lets us speculate.
The square from the Ascendent to the fourth house Sun at the IC indicates that her true personality was kept under wraps, apparently abetted by her sister Cassandra, whose destruction of Jane’s papers is a collusion in denying Jane’s reality to the outside world, effectively silencing her sister, condemning Jane’s followers to imagine what they will about their favorite writer.
A watercolour of Jane Austen commissioned by her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh from a local artist, a Mr Andrews of Maidenhead (1869).
Because Neptune on the Ascendent leads to all kinds of obfuscations, that we can never really know Jane Austen all that well should come as no surprise. With Neptune there, we are ‘encouraged’ to project our ideas of what she ‘must have been like’.
Cassandra wanted only to protect her sister, it seems; she didn’t want Jane’s irreverence and occasional blatant bawdiness and lewdness (what we would think of today as ‘free speech’, an issue near and dear to the heart of Sagittarius in combination with Virgo, both of whom frown on the kinds of untruths told to preserve reputations) to become her sister’s legacy.
Jane was a Sagittarius, with Mercury in Sagittarius (in the 3rd house, the house of frequent, short communications, like letters between sisters). Sagittarius can often be irreverent, and Jane apparently didn’t restrain her opinions in her letters and communications.
That Cassandra didn’t want Jane remembered for her truthful, open, and perhaps overly-honest nature fits with Neptune at the Ascendent square Sun at the IC. That Jane’s Sun falls in the fourth house tells me that her family, represented by a wide stellium in the fourth house, prevented her in some way from being known or seen (represented by the square to Neptune). The reason I think this particular square is of such importance to Jane’s character and life story is that it’s an exact aspect, and it involves what I consider to be the two most important angles when determining the innate character of the native, the Ascendent and the Imum Coeli.
The Ascendent and the IC in anyone’s chart indicate the two points of the house structure that determine who we are at the personal level. By this I mean that, if we contrast the 7th house/Descendent cusp and the Midheaven/10th house cusp with the nature of the first two angles, the Ascendent and IC indicate the formation of the core self that is personal to the individual.
These are the two primary points of our personality structure, represented by the astrological chart, that others cannot define for us. If, as an illustration, the Descendent and Midheaven represent the ‘extroverted’ parts of our personality, then the Ascendent and IC represent the ‘introvert’, the part of us who must define us to us, rather than be defined by others. These points are therefore uniquely personal, and, in my opinion, uniquely unconscious.
They also form the first quadrant of the chart (the IC, as with all the angles, is both a beginning and ending, a transitional moment in the chart, so to speak, representing the end of the third house and the beginning of the fourth). This quadrant represents our earliest life experiences, which occur before we have a chance to fully form an emotional vocabulary to explain ourselves to ourselves.
Neptune on the Ascendent functions like a veil drawn over the native’s life. We tend to create this person, since we don’t see her clearly or ever feel like we can know her. Does the person with Neptune on the Ascendent ever show us who she really is? The Neptune on the Ascendent person lives a life that seems in some way mysterious or hidden, or she projects onto others her mysterious, Neptunian qualities.
It’s my experience that we mostly lack conscious control over our Ascendent or IC expressions of self, which is part of why having Neptune or any other outer planet at the Ascendent or IC looms large in the myth of our lives, since planetary energy that is so difficult to understand or integrate then tends to control us, rather than the other way around.
My belief, having spent a fair amount of time trying to understand what Jane Austen’s chart indicates about her character and her life, is that she was, in many respects, possibly a true romantic who never had the opportunity to fully live out her Neptunian instincts. Even if many of her ideals were unrealizable, she left us a legacy of her higher values, that which she believed was important in marriage and human relationships.
I don’t think we can overlook the fact that her Neptune was in Virgo, which would probably have kept a sharp eye on any deeply silly tendencies or abandonment to sybaritic romantic idylls, such as those she painted in some of her more immature characters, such as the younger sisters in Pride and Prejudice.
But more than anything, I look at the strong square from Neptune, sitting directly on the Ascendent, in square to natal Sun at the IC, and I wonder to what extent her family prevented her from leaving its boundaries. It’s as if her versatile double-mutable personality, symbolized by Sun in Sagittarius with Virgo rising, was kept in check by the preponderance of planets below the horizon.
The strong fourth house tells us where her energy was directed: toward her close family and friends. Pallas Athena exactly conjunct Ceres in the fourth indicates a sense of maternal wisdom and direction combined with compassion. Whether this came from within Jane herself, or was expressed by her sisters or mother, I don’t know.
The fourth house shares this feminine energy with a powerful conjunction of Mars and Pluto, and the question I’d have for someone with this broad stellium of planets in the fourth house nowadays would be, how is the native handling their subconscious urges, particularly when it comes to their feelings for their family?
Obviously, Jane Austen wrote her way through any emotions that came up, and used her family as a sounding-board, but also as inspiration for much of her writing. She seems to have worked out the Chiron in the 7th house woundedness through her letters, most of which are missing; we see only glimpses of her real-life romantic agonies and attitudes toward marriage in her writing.
Since she was never actually married, it’s of interest that, as a writer hoping to work out her own concerns through her writing, she chose marriage and human behavior, and the rules and expectations of how one should feel and behave, as her primary subject. I would dispute that her writing was “about” romance; she wrote about social mores and roles, what was expected of us and how we function in society—these are always of interest, hence Austen’s enduring appeal.
One of the questions I have is, what effect would Neptune in Virgo have on a Virgo Ascendent, and vice-versa. In Jane Austen’s case, it seems to have squelched Neptune’s propensity to wear excessively rose-tinted glasses when at the Ascendent.
In addition, I think we can say that Neptune at the Ascendent has raised a bit of an illusory ‘fog’ around Jane’s life, to the extent that she will always remain something of a mystery. In that way, she is very much a ‘romantic’ character, one we can project our own Neptunian wishes and fantasies upon, and imagine a life for.
Not only does Neptune on the Ascendent lead one to think romantically and live a romantically-tinged life, then, it also leads others to imagine and wonder who you ‘really are,’ since, in Jane’s case, we have so little evidence to go on, we are forced to collude with Cassandra’s attempt to keep her sister’s life safe from prying eyes. Whether Cassandra did posterity, and her sister, a service or a disservice, is a matter of opinion, but the Neptune-Sun square’s energy was fulfilled by the attempt to prevent anyone from ever really getting to know Jane Austen.
It is thought that she had two or three romances during the course of her life, but we shall never know for certain, since the details of her life are hazy, as befits Neptune on the Ascendent. She seems to have had some personal experience with romance, but certainly, with Virgo rising, never let herself become carried away by her emotions.
The very restrained Moon-Saturn conjunction in Libra (which should speak to us, since Saturn has just recently left Libra) belies the passionate intensity of her Venus in Scorpio in the 2nd. One of the things I find so interesting about Jane’s chart is that each house that is heavily tenanted, the 2nd and the 4th, contains a stellium of planets that do not fit well together. In other words, it’s unkind of the planets to have aligned that day to form a person whose inner passions, personified by Venus in Scorpio, had to exist alongside a Moon-Saturn conjunction in Libra.
The astrologer is left with the impression that she held back her deepest inner nature, almost against her will, since Venus in the 2nd is a powerful sybarite when it’s allowed to be. Jane’s chart tells me we are very much the product of our times. In an a more liberal era, she might have allowed herself to break away from family and societal expectation, and live out the romances she wrote of—but then we wouldn’t have had her immortal prose to appreciate.
As with all Neptunian encounters, we are left guessing, imagining, and romanticizing. Who was the real Jane Austen? With Neptune on the Ascendent, it doesn’t surprise me that we ask that question, and will, no doubt, go on asking it, all the while imagining her into reality, as befits a Neptunian chart.