“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.
- 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.
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.
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!
- 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.
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.
- 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!