Jane Austen is definitely one of my Top 10 favorite authors – though she may not be as highbrow as Dostoevsky or Tolstoy. I’ve read each of the 6 novels she completed in her adult years, and like most people, I have my favorites.
The ultra-famous Pride and Prejudice doesn’t appear until the third spot in my ranking, and my #1 favorite Jane Austen novel is actually the lesser known Northanger Abbey. I thought sharing my ranking of her novels might spur some readers of her most popular titles to explore her less-famous works as well.
Once I finished writing this post I realized that the novels are ranked in chronological order based on when Jane Austen originally wrote them. Even Northanger Abbey, which was published in 1817 after her death, was actually written first in 1788 to 1799! There must be something to this that is influencing my preferences – I clearly appreciated Austen’s style more in her earlier works than in her more mature later novels. Very interesting.
What is your favorite Jane Austen novel? Let me know in the comments!
I read Northanger Abbey for the first time relatively recently, so it’s possible that that’s part of why it’s now my favorite Jane Austen novel. I really loved its heroine – Catherine Morland – and her naive attempts at romanticizing the world around her in the vein of the Gothic novels she loves. When Catherine is invited by the Tinley’s to stay for a while at Northanger Abbey, she’s convinced that this building steeped in history must be hiding a mysterious secret. In an ascending comedy of errors, Catherine soon realizes that life is not a novel, but she is still on her way to her own happy ending. I think my favorite parts of this novel were Catherine’s charming naiveté, the descriptions of the abbey itself, the humor and the tumultuous love story so typical of Austen’s books.
Sense And Sensibility
I may be so partial to Sense And Sensibility because I absolutely adore the 1995 movie adaptation starring Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet. It also has my favorite sister dynamic of any Jane Austen novel. Marianne and Elinor Dashwood are like the two sides of a woman, one hopelessly romantic and poetically naive, the other mature and rational even when faced with a love story clearly unfolding in her own life. A mix of the two would make the ‘perfect’ woman, but it’s much more fun to read of their imperfectly human characters. I love the novel for these two profoundly different sisters, for its beautiful passages on love versus reason and for the scandalous love stories at its center.
Pride And Prejudice
The fact that Pride And Prejudice is at number 3 in my list does not mean I don’t love it. I love all of Jane Austen’s novels so much that these rankings are truly just a matter of slight degrees of preference. I could watch the Keira Knightely version of Pride And Prejudice once a week and be perfectly happy about it, and, true story, I recognized the soundtrack playing during a massage this past weekend almost from the first note. I think what Pride And Prejudice has to offer that other Jane Austen novels don’t is that, being about five sisters, it provides a much broader spectrum of female personalities, and the relative conflicts that these different personalities bring. It also presents what I think is the ultimate cad character in a Jane Austen novel in Mr. Wickham, as well as the ultimate catch in Mr. Darcy. That makes for a pretty perfect combination.
Mansfield Park is the story of impoverished Fanny Price, who is sent as a child to live with the Bertrams, her wealthy family relations at Mansfield Park. My favorite thing about Mansfield Park is actually not the protagonist Fanny Price’s story itself, bur rather the sub plot in the novel which has Fanny’s cousins Edmund and Maria tempted by the arrival of dashing and hopelessly flawed Henry and Mary Crawford. Henry ends up making love not just to engaged Maria (during an ill-advised attempt at producing a play in an improvised theater at Mansfield Park) but even to discombobulated Fanny Price herself, who has a hard time making heads or tails of his insistent attentions. Ultimately Fanny is a less strong or compelling character for me than an Elizabeth Bennet or an Elinor Dashwood, so I’ve relegated Mansfield park to #4.
Emma used to be one of my favorite Jane Austen novels, but it’s had to give up its rank to subsequent readings of Northanger Abbey, Sense And Sensibility and Mansfield Park. Maybe it’s because I really don’t like the Gwyneth Paltrow movie adaptation of the book, but compared to Jane Austen’s other novels, Emma feels lacking in depth. It may be that its privileged, bossy, know-it-all main character is ultimately less easy to love than some of Austen’s other heroines with more redeeming qualities. Emma does eventually realize that she’s much to young to know as much about life as she initially pretends to know, but not before subjecting her friends and family to quite a slew of more or less failed machinations. If you’re searching for a much better screen adaptation of the novel, look to the BBC mini-series starring Romola Garai.
I know there are some cult lovers of Persuasion out there who will be simply affronted that I’ve relegated this novel to the last position in my esteem. Maybe it’s because with a slightly older heroine and the backdrop of a family fallen from affluence to straightened financial means, Persuasion has something less of the glitz and glamour of some of my preferred Austen novels. In Persuasion, the Elliot family finds itself forced to let their home, Kellynch Hall, due to financial issues. The new inhabitants end up being an Admiral and his wife, whose brother is Captain Frederick Wentworth, Anne Elliot’s former flame who was briefly engaged to Anne several years before, until her family repudiated the match as unsuitable. Pressed back into each other’s presence, Anne and Frederick rekindle their romance. If Persuasion is your favorite Austen novel, you can try to persuade me that I should rethink this in the comments (see what I did there). Somehow it just felt less fun to me than Austen’s previous titles.
The hardcover options I linked to above are the gorgeous cloth-covered Penguin Hardcovers (see Sense And Sensibility example below). I really want all of them!
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