Jane Austen Novels Ranked

To round out the recent Jane Austen coverage on my blog, I thought I’d go through and rank all* of her books from my least favorite to favorite**.

*I have only read her six completed full-length novels! I have not read her complete works and at this point in my life I do not intend to, but never say never.

**Please note that my word choice is deliberate: this is not a ranking of her novels from worst to best. That list would look very different and is not the aim of this blog post, before you get mad at me. Respectful disagreement about my personal ranking is, of course, more than welcome.

I’d also like to take a moment to talk generally about this experience of reading through her novels. Before this year, the only Jane Austen novel I’d read was Northanger Abbey, which had such a negligible impact on my life that my Goodreads review in its entirety was, and I quote: “This was the single most inoffensive reading experience of my life. I didn’t like this book. I didn’t dislike this book. I have no opinion on this book and I have absolutely nothing else to say.”

That said, I always knew that Northanger Abbey was a somewhat ridiculous place to start, and I always intended to give her a proper chance at some point. That opportunity presented itself in January of this year when a group of friends and I decided that we would read through her novels together in a book club, meeting on the final Sunday of each month to talk about them.

Reading them in this context was a good choice for me, because it really helped keep my momentum up throughout this project. What I very, very quickly discovered was: Jane Austen is not for me. And that is okay! I fully acknowledge the merit of her works while also acknowledging that her stories and characters have very little impact on me. I don’t love her prose, I don’t enjoy immersing myself in her stories, and I never feel like picking her books back up when I put them down.

But I’m glad I tried. Reading through Austen’s novels was always a very long-term bucket list goal of mine, so I’m glad I just went ahead and plowed through them all in six months. I also enjoyed reading them roughly in the order they were written, and seeing the change in her style over time.

My recommended reading order, if you were thinking of doing this: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion.

Now, without further ado:

6. Emma

Coming in strong with my most controversial opinion: I hated Emma. We’re off to a good start though in illustrating that my personal taste does not align with what I necessarily believe is the ‘correct’ ranking. Do I think this is Austen’s worst novel, not at all. But spending 500 pages with a character I couldn’t stand while the plot effectively went nowhere felt like a tremendous waste of my time and I actually flung this book across the room when I finished; the reading experience was that agonizing for me.

Full review here.

5. Sense and Sensibility

That this was Austen’s first published novel shows — the characters aren’t particularly convincing, the structure is odd and unbalanced, and it’s much too long for what it is. I also found the resolution almost comically unsatisfying and I have to conclude that if Austen had written this book later in her career, Elinor would have ended up with a different love interest. The whole ‘meeting of two minds’ thing that’s so characteristic of most of her romantic pairings is conspicuously absent here, and the whole project falls a bit flat because of it.

Full review here.

4. Pride and Prejudice

Though it was only published two years later, Pride and Prejudice is a much tighter and more cohesive work than Sense and Sensibility, and it’s not difficult to discern why this is largely considered Austen’s masterpiece. Not a single word is wasted in this novel, the character development is sublime, and there is of course a reason that Lizzy and Darcy are the couple of hers that have most endured in our cultural consciousness. Ironically, all of this novel’s assets are also its faults for me — it’s almost too good, it’s almost too neat and tidy. I read it, agreed that ‘yes, that was indeed excellent,’ and I honestly haven’t thought about it since.

Full review here.

3. Northanger Abbey

Slots 3 and 4 on my list was where the tension between ‘best’ and ‘favorite’ was at its strongest when I was trying to figure out where to place these. I don’t think there is a single argument to be made for Northanger Abbey being a better book than Pride and Prejudice, because it simply isn’t. But I can’t deny that I had a lot more fun reading this one. It’s weird, it’s messy, it’s unapologetically absurd, and I enjoyed it all the more for those things. I’m very glad I ended up rereading this one, because I do think I underestimated it the first time I read it. Major points, however, are docked from how much I despise Cathy and Henry’s relationship — never has the Worldly Man and Naive Ingenue pairing rubbed me the wrong way as much as it does here.

Full review here.

2. Persuasion

There’s a huge jump between slots 3 and 2 on this list; Northanger Abbey was merely enjoyable; Persuasion was utterly brilliant. A surprisingly melancholy work, Persuasion marks a real departure for Austen, and one that I’m sure I would have enjoyed following, had she lived longer and been able to write more. I love this novel’s subtlety and maturity; that it’s less ‘witty’ than its predecessors wasn’t exactly a downside for me, as I don’t find the Austenian wit a huge draw to begin with.

Full review here.

1. Mansfield Park

It’s only right that this list is bookended with my two most controversial opinions — 9 out of 10 times on ‘Jane Austen ranked’ lists, you’ll see these two flipped. While Emma is largely regarded to be one of her best novels, Mansfield Park is generally accepted to be her worst; it’s quieter, less romantic, less humorous, and darker than her other works; its heroine is timid and passive. It doesn’t invite the reader to indulge in a fantasy of Regency England — it’s a bit more like Jane Eyre, fusing a bildungsroman structure with stark social commentary. I absolutely adored this book for all of these reasons and more.

Full review here.


What’s your personal Jane Austen ranking?

7 thoughts on “Jane Austen Novels Ranked

  1. I am absolutely with you on Emma! And while Mansfield Park isn’t my favorite, it is a really good book and totally underrated. If you put Mansfield down above Sense and Sensibility, our rankings are pretty similar. I’m just a sucker for Pride & Prejudice (probably because of the nostalgia factor).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yessss justice for Mansfield Park and justice for hating Emma! Pride & Prejudice is absolutely lovely, I wish I had connected with it on a personal level a bit more but I did enjoy reading it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very satisfying to see you finish this project! I’m kind of in the same boat, although I have “come around” to Austen more than you have (but maybe you will one day!). In my 20s and early 30s, I was also very much “meh”, even when I enjoyed a book, it didn’t stick. In my late 30s and now, when I’m typically rereading one of her books for the 2nd or even 3rd time, I’m struck with the different levels… humour and sadness, character and plot, etc. Your ranking is pretty close to mine, though Northanger would be lower and Persuasion would be #1.

    Draft ranking: NA, Emma, S&S, P&P, MP, Persuasion. Subject to change 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought your ranking was favorite to least favorite for a second and was clutching my pearls.

      I will pencil in a reread for my late 30s then! I feel very satisfied with having read her now and feel ready to move on, but I’m totally open to that changing, and it’s fun to revisit books at different points in life.

      Out of curiosity have you reread Northanger? I was shocked at how much it improved for me on a second read, the humor clicked for me so much more and I just found it to be a really enjoyable, silly read. Though it’s also a very juvenile book so wouldn’t be surprised if it hasn’t improved for you with age.

      Like

  3. I read my first Austen back in April – Emma, which I definitely liked more than you did, although I’d recommend the 2020 film adaptation over the book – after swearing off her work for years (classics tend to be very hit or miss for me). The experience, while not perfect, did leave me intrigued to try a couple more of her works. I am particularly keen to give Persuasion a go, and your reviews have moved Mansfield Park higher up on my priority list. I don’t think that I am going to get through all six of her completed novels – I really have no interest in reading Pride and Prejudice at this point in time – but I guess its best to never say never.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t even like the 2020 Emma film, that’s how much I hate that story! I thought it was an impeccable adaptation, beautiful aesthetically, wonderfully acted… and I still didn’t enjoy it for a second, lol.

      But yeah, if you’re not looking to read her complete works, Persuasion and Mansfield Park are the two I would highly recommend! Persuasion because it’s lovely and melancholy and showcases Austen at her best stylistically, and Mansfield Park because it’s such a thematically rich and interesting novel and so different from the rest. Pride and Prejudice is solidly good but not the most interesting thing I’ve ever read, Northanger Abbey is the other one I’d recommend because it’s unapologetically fun and tonally distinct, and Sense & Sensibility is so profoundly skippable it’s not even funny.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That review of the Emma film is hilarious and brilliant 😀

        I am definitely going to head to Persuasion next because lovely and melancholy sounds right up my street. Thanks for the recommendations!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s