I am actually jittery as I sit down to write this. For those of you who do not know me, I have pretty much always been a big reader, but this was amplified ten-fold when I decided to study English literature at university. I was often found half-asleep with essay-induced delirium on a leather couch in the English building with my nose buried in Dickens or Shakespeare, and so you can imagine my disappointment when I left the English department for the final time and realised that I had never had the opportunity to read and discuss one of the most prolific female writers of all time- Jane Austen.
I avoided picking up classics for a year or so just because it was all that I had lived and breathed for 5 years of my life, but I could feel my copy of Pride and Prejudice, wedged in piles of books that I shipped over to England, staring at me. Finally, one dreary and rainy day, I checked out the audio book from my library and found myself FLYING through a novel that had always intimidated me. I laughed out loud at wit that I had never expected to find within the pages, and wept at the tender and beautiful monologues professing love that we all hope to find. Ever since that moment, I decided that I was going to read all of Austen's work and officially rank them. I am weirdly emotional to think that 4 years later I have completed them all and am ready to share that with you today. I have so much to owe to this little experiment of mine... firstly, I have 'most ardently' fallen in love with all of Austen's characters, her writing, and even more broadly, the Regency Era itself. Secondly, she has allowed me to find the most wondrous joy in exploring Classics and reading them for pleasure, not just discussion and essay writing.
**A note, there will be spoilers for these novels up ahead.
So, without further ado, time to crank up some Austen soundtracks and get to this... In reverse order....
6. Mansfield Park
This truly seems to be Austen's most polarising work. While I still loved her actual word choice and writing with all of my heart, I struggled to connect with this story. All of the characters in it, apart from our main protagonist, are truly horrendous and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Our female lead, Fanny Price, seems to completely lack agency and stands so high on her platform of 'the perfect, gentile, silent Regency Woman' that she lets everyone treat her like actual trash and stomp on her until she is a weeping pulp. Also, I just have to say that it was easily the most disappointing of all of the romances. There was mild build-up to it, but when I say mild, I mean there was Fanny hoping she could be with this man for hundreds of pages while he chased after another woman and then randomly decided to choose Fanny instead for no reason at all. While it wasn't for me, I can see why it is still so beloved.
I feel like I might be stepping on a few toes with 'Emma' coming in so low on my list. From my own perusing of other's Austen lists, 'Emma' is usually a firm number one or two! It seems to have a large 'fan club' for being a lighter, more comedic tone in comparison to her other work. However, I found Emma, our main protagonist (of course), to be entirely too conceited and childish for my own liking. The whole plot is centered around her taking people's actual LIVES into her own hands for her own entertainment. She is also the wealthiest of our protagonists... which, thinking about this now, might have been a social critique on Austen's part, but it was not as enjoyable of a viewpoint for me to read from, personally. This all being said, I still wrote in my review that it was 'highly entertaining' and I happily stand by that statement.
I remember really enjoying 'Persuasion', and it is the second highest-rated of Austen's work on Goodreads! However, for whatever reason, this is the book that I remember the least out of all of Austen's work. I have fond memories of Anne as our protagonist, and I love the idea behind an old romance coming together once again. It explores the age-old question of how people change and stay the same over a period of time. I also wrote in my review that it was an 'incredibly witty read with a delightfully bizarre cast of characters' which is a big compliment coming from me, so it must have been a great read, but WHY CAN'T I REMEMBER IT?
I look forward to a re-read in the near future to jog my memory of the story, but based on my notes and reviews that I took at the time, this is definitely the position that it falls in for my overall ranking of the novels.
3. Sense and Sensibility
Being a sister has always made me partial to stories about sisterhood as there is no other relationship quite like it. I also believe that Austen CRUSHES family dynamics which is a central focus in 'Sense and Sensibility'. Also, can we just talk about the fact that this is her first novel? Like, this lady knocked it out of the park first go. This has all of her tell-tale writings around neighbourhood gossip, family inheritance going to a random man that the family is not close with, agreeable gentlemanly friends, and of course witty conversations woven into her gorgeous writing. The reason that this one is in third place is because, while the sisters (in particular Marianne's) character development is excellent, their romantic feelings for their partners are very much under lock and key and we do not get to see that grow throughout.
2. Northanger Abbey
I think this is my most controversial opinion. 'Northanger Abbey' is the lowest ranked Austen novel on Goodreads, but I absolutely adored it. I thought it was a hilarious take on the Gothic Novel and I also truly believe that it is the easiest to read of all of her works in terms of writing and accessibility. I loved Catherine as a protagonist. Her naivety got her wrapped up in so much drama and my heart was PUMPING during the miscommunication scenes. There was so much on the line, but her blind trust put her into some precarious positions that led to some excellent, stressful reading sessions. I also have to mention, that of all of the male interests in Austen's books, I have a special little place in my heart for Henry Tilney. Basically, what I am saying is everyone on Goodreads is wrong and this book is an absolute blast. Thanks.
1. Pride and Prejudice
Yes, yes. How much more predictable can one be? Of course my favourite is 'Pride and Prejudice'. I am sure this is partially because it was the first one that I read, and ergo, also the first one that I fell in love with, but I also just think it is Austen's story-telling at its best. The Bennet family is one of the best literary families I have ever encountered, with (of course) a soft-spot for Lizzie and Mr. Bennet (what an actual legend). The romance in this story is also phenomenal and, in my opinion, completely lives up to the hype. It's the ultimate hate-to-love romance trope. We stan a man who is able to see his flaws when pointed out and will make up for them by being a gentleman and saving his love's family from social ruin. It is the most fleshed out of Austen's romances with us being privy to the changing feelings, and therefore the most rewarding.
There you have it folks! What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my ratings? I would love to hear your personal ranking of the Austen novels.
As a bonus, I am going to share my top 5 favourite adaptations because, at the minute, I can't seem to have enough.
5. Emma (2020)
4. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
3. Northanger Abbey (2007)
2. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
1. Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Thanks so much for reading!
Until next time,