#7. Lady Susan
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Mansfield Park is the most psychologically complex novel by Austen, an oddly dark and didactic book, in which the characters who are endowed with that sparkling Austen charm all turn out to be wicked or amoral, while the morally sound characters appear humorless. The heroine of the novel, Fanny price, is a neglected child who latches onto the only person who has ever shown her any affection — her cousin Edmund — and when he withdraws his attention from her, it affects her developing psyche in sad and painful ways.
Everyone's favorite, the most lovable novel by Jane Austen features the witty and stubborn Elizabeth Bennet who forces the reader to love her as soon as you meet her. “I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know,” Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra. Pride and Prejudice sparkles and bubbles from its iconic first line all the way through to its conclusion, and it dares its readers not to be charmed.
Austen famously remarked that Emma Woodhouse was "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like,” but in fact Emma Woodhouse is very charming. Austen portrays her very cleverly, by letting us see all of Emma’s happy self-delusions about how kind and helpful she means to be those around her, and simultaneously making it clear that she is a snobbish busybody taking out her boredom on everyone in her path. Emma is serenely joyous in her self-aggrandizement, and that makes her a delight.
Sense and Sensibility, the first novel Austen published during her lifetime, holds all of her strengths in beautiful balance. The sisterly love between Marianne and Elinor is portrayed beautifully in this heartfelt and somewhat funny piece. It’s where Austen figures out all the skills she’s about to deploy so skillfully over the course of her career.
Northanger Abbey wasn’t published until after Austen died in 1817, but it was the first novel she ever sold to a publisher (in 1803).A bit lighter than Austen’s other work, Northanger Abbey is fond of silly, flighty Catherine Morland, and of patronizing Henry Tilney, but it isn’t about to let its fondness get in the way of mocking them.
Persuasion is the most melancholy Jane Austen, and the most lyrical, and arguably the most romantic. It’s laced with regret and nostalgia, but at the end it explodes with that triumphant, cathartic love letter Wentworth slips into Anne Elliot’s hands. It’s an entirely different aesthetic mode than the rest of Austen’s work, but that mode is incredibly beautiful.
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