Picking your favourite Austen novel marks your identity within the fandom in a similar way to selecting your favourite Brontë sister. If you pick Charlotte, you’re pandering to Mrs Gaskell’s mythology. If you pick Emily, you’re trying to be all poetic and bad-girl-esque. If you pick Anne – well, you’re just trying to be different. Although in fairness, most people pick Anne these days including myself. When it comes to one’s favourite Jane Austen novel, picking Pride and Prejudice is too obvious. It’s the one everyone knows. The one that gets adapted for the screen every fifteen minutes. Are you even a fan if that’s all you can come up with? If you pick Emma, you’re showing off that you pick up on all the cleverness. Persuasion? That’s almost as bad as picking P&P. The strange thing though is that it does always seem to be one of those three. I’ve never met any fans who claimed a favourite out of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility or Mansfield Park.
The main difference between the ‘top tier’ novels and the others is the heroines. S&S have two joint heroines, Catherine Morland is not a convincing heroine and well … Mansfield Park? Really? With Fanny Price? The thing that really draws in the fans are heroines who we can identify with, even if we cannot always admire their actions. There has been a fair amount of pre-amble here because having to actually sit down and decide my favourite Austen turned out to be a fairly agonising decision. I love and admire each of them in different ways. I even loved The Watsons and Lady Susan. But my favourite? The ‘desert island disc’ Jane Austen?
I’m afraid it’s still got to be Pride and Prejudice. It may be the one that everyone picks, it may even be the one picked by fans who have never read one of the actual books in their life but … it’s still my favourite. It’s the only book I ever considered as a Spineless Classic. The only book where virtually every line is pure gold. You can micro-analyse it into oblivion and it’s still a flawless masterpiece. It’s the only book in my life where I feel entirely justified in owning four different copies. I still hope one day to own a Peacock edition. I first read it when I was ten more or less to prove that I could. I read it again as a teenager who despised romance and who hoped that Elizabeth would just ditch Darcy on his second proposal too. I read it again and I understood how Elizabeth’s wounded pride led her to make foolish choices. I read it again and appreciated Austen’s wit. I read it again and found sympathy for Mrs Bennet. Mr Bennet no longer seemed like the ‘cool’ parent. I felt sorry for Lydia who threw her life away before she was really old enough to understand the consequences of her decisions. I understood Charlotte Lucas’ desperation – we see in her just one representative of generations of women forced into marriages of pragmatism with no other option. Feminism, people, feminism! We needed it!
So while I do love Persuasion very, very deeply (it really is just a whisker behind) and indeed all the others, there is a reason why I have followed the popular opinion here. Pride and Prejudice has seen me through thick and thin – it’s more than a book to me.
For my whole Austen in August Fan Challenge – see here