The best books by Jane Austen

Who am I?

A lifelong fan of Jane Austen, I took it to a whole new level in 2017 on the heels of a devastating medical diagnosis for my husband. Reading and rereading only Austen, and about Austen, for a year of my life, I found unique solace and comfort in the genius of her prose and the hopefulness of her text. When life’s little curveball swung back at us with more stability and hope for the future than we’d initially been given, I found myself wanting to write again after a decade’s break from trying to get published. Deciding to write specifically about Austen became the perfect way to thank her for getting me through such a traumatic time in life, and to share with others how her words, and how books in general, can comfort and connect us.


I wrote...

The Jane Austen Society

By Natalie Jenner,

Book cover of The Jane Austen Society

What is my book about?

The Jane Austen Society is about a ragtag group of villagers at the end of the Second World War who band together over a shared love of Austen and decide to try to save the cottage where Austen wrote or revised all of her major works. A powerful and moving novel that explores the tragedies and triumphs of life, both large and small, and the universal humanity in us all. 

The books I picked & why

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Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Pride and Prejudice

Why this book?

I owe such a debt to Jane Austen for the wise and witty Pride and Prejudice: what I call the “gateway drug” to the rest of her canon, and the sole reason I am a published author myself today. Thank you, Jane, for pretty much inventing the hate-to-love trope behind a gazillion screwball and romantic comedies. Thank you for showing us all of humanity: the good, the bad, the foolish, and the self-glorious. And on a personal level, thank you for rocketing me into adolescence with the creation of Mr. Darcy. 


Persuasion

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Persuasion

Why this book?

If Pride and Prejudice is the gateway drug, Persuasion is the apex of Austen’s powers and second for that reason. While coping with an illness that would kill her a year later, Austen created in Anne Elliot a non-traditional, non-scrappy heroine who will, despite her own grief and the mendacious efforts of those around her, find the happiest of endings. Persuasion is elegiac, thoughtful, consuming, and sometimes despairing, and the love letter at its end has all the heft and thunderclap of a thousand thrillers.


Emma

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Emma

Why this book?

A very close third is Emma, often called the world’s first detective novel. The title heroine is a terrible matchmaker and unintentional detective, constantly sifting through social cues and clues in an effort to manipulate her environment and those in it. Emma also brilliantly mirrors the human capacity for cluelessness in us all: in fact, it personally took me at least two dozen immersive reads to finally detect one of its most critical clues to what the heck is really going on. But most of all, Emma is a hilarious, thought-provoking study in community and the moral obligation we have to help raise each other up, not down. For that reason alone, it is a gift to humanity.


Mansfield Park

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Mansfield Park

Why this book?

Things here get tricky, but for me, the next best book by Austen is Mansfield Park. Fans are divided, and as you read, you will be, too. You will either have to overlook the piety and passivity of heroine Fanny Price or embrace her as an example of what Austen is most often writing about: the need to be authentic to one’s unique self, in all its flawed humanity, and resilient enough to go after what one really wants. Mansfield Park pulls no punches: the characters fail each other just like in real life. But this being Austen, they also get exactly what they deserve, and the example of someone triumphing who is as unfavoured by life as Fanny gives hope for us all.


Sense and Sensibility

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Sense and Sensibility

Why this book?

My final book pick is Sense and Sensibility. A surprisingly interior early novel from Austen, this is the story of two very different sisters at a time in society when choices for women were notoriously thin. There is so much grief, fear of poverty, hopelessness, and unrequited love buried in the traditional marriage plot, but Austen still gives us hope for the capacity of all humans to grow through love and loss. Sense and Sensibility is a primer on seeking balance in all aspects of life, while also engagingly romantic in the best of ways.


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