Ranking Jane Austen’s Novels

Ranking Jane Austen’s Novels

“If you could only read one Jane Austen novel a year every year for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?”

I’ve heard this question float around from time to time and it always gets a spirited response. Today I’d like to list my favorite Austen stories in order, from my least to most favorite. Your own list might look quite different, but the important thing is that we all love Jane Austen! Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.

Important note: just because a story is at the bottom of my list doesn’t mean I think it’s bad! In any list something has to be at the bottom, and something has to be at the top.

  1. Sense and Sensibility

I know what you’re thinking: “Elaine, you’re crazy!!! The bottom of the list?”

There are a lot of people out there who dearly love Sense and Sensibility, and they’re not wrong. It’s a great story with a swoon worthy hero, Colonel Brandon, and an admirable and patient leading lady, Elinor Dashwood. But for some reason I just can’t get into it. Maybe Elinor is too good for me. Think of Jane Bennet being the heroine of Pride and Prejudice instead of Elizabeth. Would it have the same zing? And I definitely think Colonel Brandon could have done better than Marianne. The story has Austen’s usual perceptive insight into human character, but it’s just not my thing.

Forgive me, please? 🙂 Nobody’s perfect.

 

  1. Emma

 Emma has the amazing Mr. Knightley for a hero but I just can’t relate to our well meaning wealthy matchmaker. Plus I’m a lazy reader, and every time I start on Emma and I get to the part with the riddles, my brain starts to hurt. 🙂 Also, Emma has some strongly drawn secondary characters, such as Mr. Woodhouse and Jane Fairfax, that make me feel sorry for them. When I read Austen I prefer to laugh at people, not feel bad for them. I do, however, share Emma’s flash of insight and regret when she receives Knightley’s firm but gentle rebuke. So again, this is a great story but not one that I read very often.

 

  1. Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey is very, very funny if you are in the right mood. One of my best friends and I used I used to write long, melodramatic stories wherein our heroines (always thinly disguised versions of ourselves) got into unimaginable drama, adventures, and true love, all at the tender age of fifteen or so. We had hurricanes, tornadoes, kidnappings and floods, not to mention the occasional grisly death. So I can totally relate to Catherine Morland creeping around a dark mansion at night, trying to prove a murder has taken place, and I appreciate the trouble her vivid mental life creates for her!

 

  1. Mansfield Park

This is another one where some of you are thinking, “Elaine, you’ve lost your mind!” Not many people enjoy Mansfield Park but it’s in my top three. I’ve explained in a previous post why I admire Fanny so much so I won’t repeat it here. But when I’m tempted to go along with the crowd for the chance to fit in, or when I consider compromising my principles for a temporary benefit, Fanny’s story reminds me to stand strong. And her ceaseless love for Edmund is touching. Fanny doesn’t have Anne Elliott’s secret passion or Elizabeth Bennet’s wit, but I still want to be like her.

 

 

  1. Persuasion

Let’s face it: Persuasion is basically a twenty two chapter long prelude to that marvelous letter by Captain Wentworth! But oh, the payoff!

Reading Persuasion takes maturity and patience. Like Anne Elliott, we have to learn to read between the lines to see into a man’s heart and recognize the love that has never died. And like Anne, we discover that perseverance eventually pays off with a glorious, and well earned, happy ever after.

 

  1. Pride and Prejudice. Of course.

I mean who doesn’t love P&P? It has the humor of Northanger Abbey in spades, along with the character insight of Austen’s other novels. It’s satirical. It slyly makes fun of characters we recognize in real life. (“I should be a great proficient, if I had ever learnt!”) It makes us look at our own faults and foibles and be honest about the kind of people we are. (“Till now I never knew myself.”) And it has love, true love. (“You must allow me to tell you how ardently I love and admire you.”) It is absolutely the best of Austen’s writing, all wrapped into one. Since you’re on this site you have presumably read it once already, but if you haven’t you really should. And even if you have you should go back and read it again. And again. It’s that good.*sigh, swoon*

 

I can’t close this list without doing a quick shout out to Lady Susan, a minor and underappreciated Austen story. Reading Lady Susan, or watching Love and Friendship, its movie adaptation, is a guilty pleasure. Lady Susan is just so evil that I can’t help admiring her! One has to wonder if Austen ever knew a Lady Susan in real life. Heaven forbid!

So there’s my list, for better or worse. You may agree with it or utterly disagree. But one thing we can all agree on: we all love Jane Austen!

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24 COMMENTS
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Garry Holland
Garry Holland
November 2, 2020 10:17 AM

Well, I’ve just finished reading P&P – and having never read a word of JA until about 5 years ago, I can finally deliver a personal ranking:

1) P&P – just a blisteringly good, touching, funny read; JA really gets under the bonnet (so to speak…) of human nature; superb insights
2) Northanger Abbey – the one that made me smile the most; clever, clever stuff
[Lady Susan – formative and slight, yes, but a hoot and a half – really enjoyed it]
3) S&S – beautifully judged, well balanced, high class
4) Mansfield Park – took me a hundred pages to get into it (too many characters sloshing around too early), but excellent thereafter
5) Persuasion – really well written and enjoyable book, but felt slightly on railway lines; I’d like more (genuine) surprises
6) Emma – the only one that felt a bit like hard work; just didn’t find myself rooting for any of the characters.

Garry Holland
Garry Holland
November 3, 2020 4:14 AM
Reply to  Garry Holland

Should have added that I read The Watsons and Sanditon too. Very hard to judge their potential, of course. Sanditon seemed to offer more places where the story could go and its seaside setting was a breath of fresh air(!). The big question is, naturally, what other devices etc would JA have employed to make the story distinctive? There’s no doubt she could have done it – we just don’t know how! Wasn’t a massive fan of the TV series. Too slow, for me. The thing about JA’s books is that they generally zip along. There’s so much going on (even if it’s just inside the characters’ heads) that sluggishness is the cardinal sin for any JA adaptation – at least in my book(!).

Pam Hunter
Pam Hunter
August 18, 2020 2:47 PM

Pride and Prejudice is my number one. Persuasion is right behind at number 2. I enjoyed reading your rankings of JA’s novels.

Patricia Finnegan
Patricia Finnegan
August 16, 2020 3:43 PM

I am curious where you would rank her unfinished works like the watsons and sanditon (going through a phase with the last one!) ?

darcybennett
darcybennett
August 15, 2020 3:31 PM

Enjoyed reading your list and reasons for your ranking. My top choice is a tie between P&P and Persuasion as I love them both equally followed by Emma, S&S, NA and Mansfield Park. For some reason, I just could not get into Mansfield Park although perhaps it’s time I give it another try.

carylkane
carylkane
August 14, 2020 10:30 PM

Elaine, Thank you for sharing. I’ve not yet read all of Jane’s books.

Chelsea K
Chelsea K
August 15, 2020 1:13 AM
Reply to  carylkane

I haven’t read all of them either. I have seen movies from all of them though.

Chelsea K
Chelsea K
August 14, 2020 1:45 AM

This is my list of favorite Austen stories in order from favorite to least favorite although I must admit that some of them I have only seen the movies for and not read the actual books:

01: Pride and Prejudice
02: Sense and Sensibility or Emma depending on my mood (hard to rank)
03: Mansfield Park
04: Emma or Sense and Sensibility depending on my mood (hard to rank)
05: Persuasion
06: Northanger Abby

buturot
August 13, 2020 11:57 PM

I am not much of a reader so I depend a lot on the summaries or watching them. I caught glimpses of sense and sensibility (movie) but I never completed it. It didn’t appeal much to me.

The only story that I completed watching and reading was P&P. For some reason this story captivated me. Thus this is at the top of my list 😉

Cyndee Gerard
August 13, 2020 6:24 PM

While S&S is not the best example of Austen’s writing, it is still my favorite. I like the way Elinor and Marianne are like two pieces that complete a whole with their two opposing personalities. The book is a reflection of the time it was written; that being the early 19th century. At the time, the attitudes of the Enlightenment period and the emphasis on reason over everything else was changing to the attitudes of the Romantics, where feelings were more important than reason. The characters of Elinor and Marianne represent the old and the new, and the decision being made by many people as to what is the best world view. Also, S&S is filled with interesting symbolism: Queen Mab, the horse Willoughby gives to Marianne, is a symbol of romance and fertility. Brandon’s waistcoat symbolizes aging, and the lock of hair Edward wears in his ring is a symbol of his belief in commitment. The book just has a lot of hidden treasures I think are overlooked.

My list will probably construed as a little weird, but here it is: S&S, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abby, P&P, Persuasion and Emma.

I have always thought that while P&P is funny and well written, it has always been very over-rated. (No booing allowed!!)

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
August 13, 2020 6:22 PM

Can I say ‘YES’ six times? I agree completely with your list. Although, I kept vacillating between 5&6.

6) S&S: It is a given that the Colonel could have done better. Marianne simply got on my nerves. But then, Elinor could have done better. Edward was a putz to lead her on like that and I had trouble liking him for it.

5) Emma: I have NEVER liked Emma. I’m sorry… I just cannot like her. There, I’ve said it and I will stand by it. There are a few scenes in the various movies that I like, but I’ve always liked Mr. Knightley, just not the Emma character.

4) NA: Catherine… bless her heart, is all of us at some stage in our lives. Snicker… she is so cute and innocent. I just adore her Mr. Tilney and despise the Thorpes as well as General Tilney. Captain Tilney was a rake of the first order and Miss Thorpe got what she deserved.

3) MP: Team Fanny all the way. She always gets bad press [excluding you] and not a lot see her for who and what she was. That one movie where she was the consummate flirt just grated on my LAST nerve. I did not appreciate the ambush with the nudity and character sabotage of Sir Thomas. I finally cut the DVD up into little pieces with the pruning shears and threw it in the trash where it belonged. Whew! I think I’ve had too much Mt Dew.

2) Persuasion: that letter, that man… that abiding love… heavy sigh.

1) P&P: Oh, YES!! Number one and will always be in my heart. In the 1998 movie ‘You’ve Got Mail,’ Meg Ryan’s character read P&P every year. I though… well now, isn’t that an excellent idea and have tried to do so ever since. I have missed a few years due to real life issues but I try to if I can. Thank you for this post. That was fun. Blessings, stay safe, and healthy.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
August 14, 2020 3:34 PM
Reply to  Elaine Owen

It was the 1999 version. Her flirting wasn’t overt, she was just too sexy for her character. She appeared sensual a few times and smoldered which I don’t think Fanny would even know how to do. Even Henry told her she was killing him. If she was complete ignoring him then it would not invoke those feelings in him. It also contained a partial-nude scent with Maria and Henry while they were at Mansfield Park which would be wrong and Fanny found them. In canon, they were at Mrs. Rushworth’s new house and servants reported to Mrs. Rushworth senior about the affair. Then the viewer was ambushed with Tom’s sketch book with scenes that he supposedly drew while in Antigua that were violent and horrid. Sir Thomas was not depicted well. I never in a million years thought I’d need to check the ratings on an Austen film. Let’s just say… I now look.

Chelsea K
Chelsea K
August 15, 2020 1:10 AM
Reply to  J. W. Garrett

I have watched the 1999 version a few times but it is my least favorite Mansfield Park movie and I agree that it isn’t completely true to the story. I hate the depiction of Sir Thomas. I think it might have the most likeable Henry Crawford though.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
August 13, 2020 2:51 PM

Persuasion is my number one. I love Anne Eliott and I love the second chance love story. Then for me it’s Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and definitely last is Emma. My least favorite in every way. When I first discovered Austen, in my thirties, I loved P&P. I read it countless times and watched all the adaptations numerous times. I think I over did it! Maybe my love for it will come back again but for now it stays on the list where it is.
Great post!

reginajeffers
Admin
August 13, 2020 8:18 AM

My list would very much look like yours. When I first read “Emma,” I dearly loved it for the glorious Mr. Knightley. Keep in mind I was in early puberty at the time, and handsome heroes were all the rage in my mind. However, as I matured, I could not like Emma’s character. She was the “mean girl” I frequently encountered in school. As to S&S, I would have been happier to have Elinor and Brandon to wake up and realize their affections were more agreeably engaged elsewhere. But I enjoy the tale more than I do Emma. The rest are much in the same order. I love NA for the sheer “thrill” of reading Catherine Morland’s imaginings and for, dare I say, how she learns something about true character. Mansfield Park has more “meat” to the story, and it does have a plethora of characters to despise and root against. I dearly love Persuasion, and, as you say, it represents Jane Austen’s maturity as a writer. Of course, P&P is number one. Back in those early days of reading Austen as a merging teenager, I fell in love with Mr. Knightley first. Then I read Pride and Prejudice. I fell in love with Mr. Darcy last. For a little over 60 years, he has been number one. LOL!

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
August 13, 2020 6:33 AM

P+P would be my first and Sense and Sensibility would probably be second but I am not sure about the rest of the order although I probably would put Emma third.lol

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