Austen in August Challenge – Favourite Book by Jane Austen

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 AbbeySense 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

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7 thoughts on “Austen in August Challenge – Favourite Book by Jane Austen

  1. As ever, you’ve really made me think here. I must be slightly perverse, as my favorite novels from many of the great 19th century novelists are probably most other people’s least favorites. Villette is the Bronté novel I have returned to most often, and I had an oddly cathartic experience last year when I read Dickens’s Dombey and Son, which has more or less gone off the radar completely. As for Austen? They are all brilliant of course, but the one which has stuck in my head over the years despite it being the least enjoyable reading experience is actually Mansfield Park. As I have been typing this, it has dawned on me that all three novels I have mentioned have quiet, introverted, somewhat somber heroines with almost crippling self-esteem problems. Hmm.

    1. I’ve never read Dombey & Son. I have grand plans to read more Dickens but then I always put it off. It took me ages and ages to read David Copperfield and that was a few years ago. I did actually read Villette last year and I really responded to it. I think that because so many people had told me that it was a weird book and incredibly depressing, I had set myself up to dislike it and was really surprised that I did not. It was incredible.

      Isn’t it funny when you suddenly spot a theme, like your revelation about the heroines? I have had my own thought here though – what the comments on this prompt have made me realise is that I really need to reread Mansfield Park. Thank you for commenting!

    2. I have a soft spot for Mansfield Park: Fanny sticks to her principles and is not fooled by the surface glitter of Society into forgetting that the double standards in the world that mean a man can do anything and get away with it, do not allow the same freedom to a woman. Unlike her cousin, Fanny will never have to drag out her days Abroad because she has lost her reputation. She has self respect, and a clear-eyed grasp of the realities of the world she lives in. What’s not to like? Good, solid story telling and a great range of characters.

      Having said all that, and agreeing that the wonderfulness of Pride and Prejudice knows no bounds, my heart belongs to Persuasion, a beautiful, humane, gentle account of lost love regained: Anne Eliot recovers her sense of herself, makes peace with her past, including forgiving her younger self and finds that the man she loves has also been looking at the past through different eyes. The moment comes – and they are both ready to embrace a future together. I also love the cast of supporting characters, Anne’s father and sisters providing a lot of the comedy. Beautiful, flawless prose, a tight plot, a happy ending: perfection between hardcovers!

      PS: Dombey and Son is well worth looking at – extremely long, but a quicker read than you might think, once you get into it.

  2. Maybe I’m a contrarian, but the Austen novel I re-read the most is Mansfield Park even though I agree that Fanny is a less than satisfying heroine. Despite this, I love the writing in this novel. Subtle, sombre, funny and with more symbolism (such as the scenes at Sotherton) than other Austen novels.

    1. I agree that Mansfield Park is very clever – it has been a while since I read it but it keeps coming up in the biographies and criticism that I’m reading and it’s been niggling at me for a while to revisit. I think it just doesn’t have the same warmth for me as Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion and for that reason it isn’t in my top picks. It’s brilliant to hear from people in other camps – it’s also so interesting how different novels go up and down in popularity depending on the fashions. You wouldn’t think (or I wouldn’t think) that would arise with books that have been around so long. Thank you so much for commenting!

  3. Ha! Personality litmus tests in picking a Jane Austen novel, I love it! I think it’s still too early in my Austen reading life to pick a favourite, but so far I’m right there with you – Pride And Prejudice, accusations of cliche be damned. What I’ve found, though, is that every single Austen I’ve read is a slow burn. I start off feeling ambivalent about it, maybe even disliking it, then it grows on me, and grows on me, and then some time later (usually long after I’ve finished the book), I find I love it. That was definitely the case with P&P! So, my “favourite” might be swayed by what I read and how long ago 😉 Not sure what that says about me, but them’s the breaks!

    1. That’s really interesting – I guess the ‘slow burn’ thing was the case with me and Sense and Sensibility. I had read it a couple of times but then when I came to it last time, it just blew me away. Austen’s writing is so distinct from contemporary writing that whenever I come back to her, it always feels like a real gear change. Still, I’m always so glad when I do 🙂
      Thank you so much for commenting!

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