At the age of 8 years, Jane formed a friendship with Anne Lefroy, the wife of the rector at Ashe Parsonage, a person who was to have a significant influence in her life. Anne's great passion was poetry and many writers believe that Jane's lifelong love of poetry came from Anne Lefroy who also wrote poetry, warm pieces at ease with feelings. With her friend Anne, Jane could let down her guard, and forget the need to conceal feelings that might leave her open to ridicule by her witty mother and teasing elder brothers.
The Steventon Parsonage was full of boys, a mixture of 4 brothers and pupils, the eldest of them 14 and 15. Twice a year the pupils arrived, in February and the end of August. and twice a year they left, for Christmas and in June. The school year was divided into two halves at the Austen's, just like the great public schools. Some were sons of local squires, while some came on the coach from further away, like the Fowle boys from Kintbury in Berkshire, a distance of about 20 miles. In the study, the boys were taught Latin and Greek, looked through the microscope and studied the globe. Mrs Austen always had her hands full attending to the vegetable garden, poultry yard, dairy, meals, laundry and lessons, yet always had time to make up comic verse about daily happenings. Mr Austen was also attending to the farm, his sermons and his parishioners .
Growing up with so many boys meant that Jane knew exactly what to expect of boys, and was always at ease with them. She joined in with all the noisy games, rolling down hills, climbing trees, walking across the hills to Deane Hill Inn to collect the mail, and playing in the barn in wet weather. Later, her writing in her teenage years is full of boy's humour about food, drunkenness, horses and vehicles, journeys and accidents. Those early years of contact and experience with many young men are the opposite of the sheltered experience of most young women of the time. Most would only have known their own brothers and occasional visits from male cousins. Maybe this is the reason why her male characters are just as interesting as her female characters.
Although the rectory was a place of learning where Mr Austen guided his children's study of the classics and encouraged their formal exercises in writing, their upbringing was far from a grind. The family reading ranged widely. In the evening they would take turns reading aloud or put on their own rhyming charades or her brothers (and the boarders) would read out their own poems, plays and stories. In school holidays they worked extensively to act out plays, putting on 8 plays in 8 years. The plays took place in the barn in summer and the family drawing room in winter.
Jane and Cassandra's first trip away to school had been less than 6 months. After two years at home they were sent away to school a second time to Abbey School in Reading, This time was a longer stay of almost two years. Jane and Cassandra returned home to Steventon at Christmas 1786 and Jane began to write. She was just 11 years of age.