It’s no secret that I consider Pride and Prejudice to be one of the greatest works of literary fiction ever written. It was required reading for me in high school and then again in college and I’ve read it a few dozen more times since then. Its satire and wit engaged me immediately and the perfectly-paced evolution of the relationship between its 2 main characters, 2 of the most complex, interesting characters I’ve ever read, left a profound lasting impression. A couple of years ago, I decided that since I absolutely adore it as I do, I should read the rest of Jane Austen’s novels, too. Sadly, since she died at the young age of 41, there are only 6 in all.
Persuasion was the 2nd of Austen’s books that I read. And while I still preferred P&P, I did really enjoy it. It was a little less cynical and also less jovial. More romance than comedy, more heart than humor. While there were comedic elements, nearly every character was more serious, more sober than farcical, in comparison to the beloved Pride and Prejudice.
Next came Mansfield Park. And I made one damning mistake before I’d read this one: I watched the movie first. I liked the film so very much but found myself wanting to root for the so-called “bad guy,” the charismatic playboy who was a little too charming. I expected to find him less appealing when I read the book. Boy, was I wrong. While reading it, I felt even more drawn to him and found the character of Edmund, the “good guy” who eventually wins the girl, much less likable than his on-screen counterpart. I don’t mean to dog this book; it is definitely worth a read. I just made the mistake of watching its film adaption first and, as usual, rooted for the wrong guy.
A short while later, I got around to reading Northanger Abbey, a nice, sweet little book that aroused no strong feelings in me one way or another. I neither disliked it nor did I love it. It was good. Charming. Cute.
Just this afternoon, I finished Sense and Sensibility, probably my second favorite of Austen’s works. Its characters, though not all likable, are all complicated, detailed characters with personalities so real, I felt as though I knew them intimately by the time I reached the end. Not quite as snickery as P&P, but nearly as deep, it is an excellent read. And it showcases what I believe to be Austen’s greatest gift (though she had oh so many): her ability to write people so very well. She must have been a true student of human nature and behavior to have nailed them all with such precision. At times poking fun at the folly of humankind, though never maliciously, and at others, revealing the deepest of emotions we’re capable of feeling, she covers it all so acutely, so realistically, you’d swear she could read minds.
I have yet to read Emma, so its place in line remains to be determined, but I’ll keep you posted, since I’m sure you’ll eagerly await my verdict on it.