It is possible that you have seen a lot of TV and film adaptations of the books. But have you read them? Anna James, a huge Austen fan, told us which book to start with first, so we asked her.
Pride and Prejudice (1813)
According to most people, Jane Austen is best known for her novel, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. When people think of Austen, they think of love, difficult families, and Darcy emerging from the lake in a wet shirt. Good place to start is because it’s likely that you already know something about the story. You might have seen the TV show or the movie. You might have read the book or seen the web series. As a result, you don’t have to worry too much about keeping track of the story. Instead, you can enjoy Austen’s witty sense of humor and a cast of characters that come to life, from obsequious Mr. Collins to Lizzy Bennett, Austen’s favorite heroine.
In Emma, there are misunderstandings, bad plans, and a heroine that Austen laughs at. It has a lot in common with Pride and Prejudice, but Emma isn’t as likeable as Lizzy, who is a little naive about her matchmaking plans. But this is what makes the book so fun to read. Austen cleverly contrasts what we know about Emma with how Emma herself sees her own story.
Northanger Abbey (1817)
When you read Northanger Abbey, you’ll see that it’s a gothic satire at its heart. The more you know about gothic literature, the more you’ll be able to enjoy Austen’s witticisms and parodies of gothic novels that were popular when she was writing. It’s one of two novels Austen wrote that were only published after her death, along with Persuasion. It’s thought to be the most fun of her work because it’s the one where she laughs the most at her characters. Until she learns how to be the hero of her own story, Catherine relies on books and fairy tales to make sense of the world.
Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Moving on to Austen’s books that are a little more sad, we start with one of the most well-known and also one that’s a little bit of a bridge between her more witty work and her more unique novels. When Jane Austen wrote this book, it was first published anonymously. It may not be her funniest or most romantic book, but it’s a great example of why we love Austen. Marianne and Elinor are two sisters who have to move from a large estate to a small cottage as they grow up. There is sisterly love, interesting love stories, gentle wit, and a lot of heart in this story.
Mansfield Park (1814)
Mansfield Park is the Austen book that most people disagree on. Some think it’s her best work, while others think it doesn’t have the heart and warmth of her other books. The heroine, Fanny Price, is very different from Lizzy. She’s very introverted and straight-forward, but she can read people better than you might think, which makes her a little less of a killjoy. The novel talks about what people value. Is it charm or real good? Is money or what you do with it important? An important, moral book, it’s a slow-burner that’s worth a second read-through.
If I hadn’t already read and liked other books, I don’t think I would have loved this one as much. In my opinion, Persuasion is the most romantic of Jane Austen’s novels. It ends with a letter that makes you want to swoon. Hero Anne is older than most of Austen’s main characters, and she has been through a lot of disappointments in the past, but her development, and the development of her love interest, Captain Wentworth, is, for many people, one of Austen’s best.
Besides these full-length novels, Austen wrote a lot of marginalia and short stories, as well as a short story that she never sent to publishers. This darkly funny story about a beautiful widow who likes to play with men for her own amusement is now called Lady Susan. When she comes to visit her brother and sister-in-law with her teenage daughter, things go awry. Or there’s Love and Friendship, which Austen wrote when she was 14. As a parody of romantic novels, it’s interesting to see the beginning of her wit and disdain for romantic clichés.
“Lady Susan,” an early Jane Austen novel, is written as a series of letters from different people. It tells the story of Lady Susan Vernon, a woman who is known for her manipulative and seductive ways of getting what she wants. With little money after the death of her first husband, Lady Susan sets out on a mission to marry off her teenage daughter and get married again. She also wants a better man for herself.
Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon
Collection: Lady Susan, which was written after Lady Susan’s death, and two other unfinished works, “The Watsons” and “Sanditon,” are in this collection. These stories are perfect for any Jane Austen fan who wants to read more of her work. They show off Austen’s literary skills in three less-read stories.
Love and Freindship: And Other Youthful Writings
“Love and Friendship” [sic] is one of several stories Jane Austen wrote when she was a teenager. This one was written when she was just 14 to make her family laugh. Through letters, Laura tells Marianne how her love life has gone downhill and how she wants to warn her about the risks of romance.
Jane Austen’s Letters
A biography called “Jane Austen’s Letters” is a great way to learn more about Jane, her family, and her home. In this collection of letters, Jane Austen’s witty and memorable voice is brought back to life thanks to well-researched annotations. The book is perfect for any Austen fan who wants to learn more about the author’s history.
The Beautifull Cassandra
“The Beautifull Cassandra” [sic] is a short story about Jane Austen’s older sister, Cassandra. It’s told in 12 short chapters. During this cute story, Cassandra tries to have the best day possible by doing a few things that are a little illegal but still fun.