Why I Love Jane Austen {a Ranking of her Books}

 

I love Jane Austen novels. It is no secret that although I love playing video games,  I believe I should have been born in the 1800’s. (Preferably as a wealthy person, because I wouldn’t want to die of cholera or consumption.)  I think it is something about being expected to sit around and read books all day, while waiting for a ball to happen in the evening. Or having a dinner party followed by cards on a less fun day. Also, having servants to do your hair. I feel like mom buns are only a thing because somewhere in history, women have lost the luxury of having servants to do their hair and lace up corsets. The other reason why I love Jane Austen, is that she was saucy. First of all, she was a single lady. She had love interests, but it never worked out, so she wrote novels.  She used sarcasm like a pro, and she made fun of society in a subtle, yet hilarious way.  She wrote strong female characters, who actually were respected for being independent.

The best Jane Austen novel: Pride and Prejudice. The reason, is Elizabeth Bennet. It was hard for me to decide whether Northanger Abbey or P&P were better, but E. Bennet sways it for me. She is the opposite of what you think of when you think of a lady. SHE WALKED THREE MILES THROUGH THE MUD TO VISIT HER SICK SISTER AND DIDN’T CARE WHAT THE RICHEST FAMILY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD THOUGHT ABOUT HER WHEN SHE SHOWED UP DRIPPING WITH MUD AND INVITED HERSELF TO STAY THERE AND CARE FOR HER SISTER. She also was stubborn, and judgy. Her cousin proposed to her, and she turned him down because she knew he was an idiot. Her only fault as a character, was part of the reason I love her so much. She should have seen Mr. Darcy for the honest and perfect man that he was, but she let her judgment be clouded by a lie she heard about him, that fit well with her first impression of him, not asking her to dance at a ball. She is not perfect like many other characters in classic novels. Is it a spoiler to tell you that everything works out in the end?   (That is the only complaint I have about Austen books, that almost every character is happily married to the perfect man in the end of the book. Excepting each book’s token girl who made a mistake and lived in sin, eloped or married for money.

Okay. I could go on about the reasons why I love E. Bennet / Darcy all day, but I won’t, because I still have to explain why I love all the other Austen books.  Before I move on, here is a quote that speaks to me.

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Northanger Abbey: Northanger Abbey has snark. The whole book parodies other novels written at the time, and pokes fun at gothic novels and their female characters / heroines. Austen often breaks out of the novel to explain a literary device, or sarcastically explain what should happen in a novel. She is also very clear that her characters like reading novels, and she calls out other novelists for writing characters who don’t read, or who consider gothic novels as trashy.

Her main female character, Catherine is a young lady tomboy who is forced into town to find a man, as her entire neighborhood is comprised of females. She is taken advantage of by a friend who is hoping to marry her brother for money, and is treated very poorly by that friend’s brother, who hopes to marry her. She finds friends in Mr. Tilney (a quirky man she meets at a ball) and his sister. She hopes to marry Mr. Tilney, but has some obstacles put in her way by her friend’s brother, and also by her own self. She is invited to their house, an abbey, which excites her gothic novel loving self. She convinces herself that her host (Mr. Tinley’s father) killed his wife, and embarrasses herself by admitting that in front of the son. She is eventually thrown out of the house in disgrace.  Although she goes home and of course, lives happily ever after.

Mr. Tilney is perfectly strange. He is condescending and smart, and makes observations about society that are true and very funny.

“Now I must give one smirk and then we may be rational again”
― Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey

Mansfield Park:  Mansfield Park is the only novel that follows a less fortunate lady. Fanny is a ward, taken in by her wealthy uncle. Her mother is a very pretty lady, who made an unfortunate choice in marriage. She married a Naval officer who left work due to disability. They have too many kids and can’t afford them. Her two sisters married better; the eldest, marrying Sir Thomas. The middle sister (Mrs. Norris) married the clergyman who lived in the parsonage on Sir Thomas’ land.  Sir Thomas and Mrs. Norris decide to take Fanny in when she is 9, and raise her as a lady. Mrs. Norris is terrible to Fanny, and constantly reminds her that she is not worthy of her life. Sir Thomas has 4 children, 3 of which have questionable morals, and Edward, who wants to be a clergyman.  Fanny and Edward are very similar, Fanny is a good person with the best morals, and makes many sacrifices for the happiness of the family.  This story has a lot of family drama, and the ladies and gentlemen who should know better behave very badly.  But, like all Jane Austen novels, Fanny gets what she deserves and wants in the end.

I believe the reason I like this novel so much, is that I enjoy the social commentary, how the people who should have such great manners are making a mess of their lives, and the people who are considered undeserving by society are actually the best people. Also, I can’t resist when Aunt Norris, who is a truly horrible person gets what is coming to her.

“Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”
— Jane Austen (Mansfield Park)

Emma: Emma is just funny. It is full of Emma trying to do what she thinks is best, but making mistakes all over the place. She believes she will never marry, as her father needs her company. However she does love playing matchmaker for everyone else in town. She causes many confusing situations, and eventually swears off matchmaking. Even though she swears she will never marry, she ends up marrying the only man who isn’t afraid to correct her. I won’t lie, about 1/3 of the way through the book, I put it down and had a really hard time picking it up again, as the story gets a bit slow at that point.  But I’m glad I powered through, because it does get better.

Sense and Sensibility: This book is a good book, but it is a bit harder for me to get through it. The book follows a wealthy family of mostly women, who are put out of their house by their step brother/step son when the father dies. The girls go to live in a cottage, and romantic problems abound. The eldest (Marianne) falls in love with a man, thinks they are engaged, leads her family to believe they are engaged, and then finds out that he is actually engaged to another woman. The younger sister(Elinor) believes that she is nearly engaged to her step brother’s brother in law (I know, the family trees in these books are nightmarish). She ends up finding out from a frenemy (friend/enemy for those of you not in the know) that he is actually secretly engaged to said frenemy, and has been for the past 4 years. His mother finds out about his secret engagement and disinherits him. His fiancé then marries his younger brother, who inherited the family fortune. He is then free to marry who he wants and marries Elinor. They all live happily ever after, except for Marianne’s love interest, who married a terrible woman for her money and is tortured for the rest of his life.

Persuasion:  The heroine of this book is a middle aged (28 year old) lady, named Anne, who has decided to give up on love in order to keep her father’s household in order. Her father is basically a selfish, vain jerk who only cares for himself, and spends more money than he makes. They are forced to rent their lovely house full of mirrors and move into a small house. Her father falls for her sister’s single mother friend, and asks her to accompany them to the new house instead of Anne. Anne goes to visit her other sister, and nurses her nephew after he breaks his collar bone. Basically everyone in the whole family is an idiot except for Anne. She meets a man that she had been in love with when she was 19, but was convinced by her family and friends to leave because of his station in life. She is forced to see him trying to woo another woman in her party. Things work out in her favor, because of a head injury that is the result of a terrible fall taken by her friend, who then falls out of love with her man.

The award for most inappropriate laughter gets awarded to me, as I laughed out loud when one of Anne’s friends is taken up lifeless while jumping during a walk. I seriously laughed so hard at the drama of the scene. Her friend was jumping over a staircase / retaining wall kind of thing, flirting, trying to get her man friend to catch her. (I had to google scenes from the movie to understand exactly what happened, because location is not familiar to me.)

“He advised her against it, thought the jar was too great; but no, he reasoned and talked in vain, she smiled and said, “I am determined I will:” he put out his hands; she was to precipitate by half a second, she fell on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!”

So there you have it.  Some reasons to read a Jane Austen book (or all of them) today. I had read P&P (multiple times) and Emma previously, but I decided to read them all back to back a couple weeks ago. It only took me about 3 weeks to read all 6 books, excepting the month that I took off in-between the first few chapters of Emma and finishing it. I like being able to keep them fresh in my mind to compare them, although it is possible that I thought I liked Northanger Abbey the best since it was the last book I read. I always tend to look more favorably on a book I’ve just finished than books that have had some time to settle.

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