So, a while back I wrote a post ranking Disney Princess movies. (I’d link to it but I’m writing this on my phone and it’s more trouble than it’s worth.) It was kind of just a random idea I had, but it was a lot of fun for me. It was especially fun for me to see y’all’s rankings (and general opinions) as well.
So the other day I thought, why not rank Jane Austen novels? That would be fun. I have some fairly unusual opinions. I’m curious what my readers’ opinions would be. Let’s do this.
So…let’s do this.
FIRST PLACE // PERSUASION
I think if you’re a Jane Austen snob, you say, “Pride and Prejudice is okay, but Jane Austen’s real masterpiece is Persuasion.”
I hope I’m not a Jane Austen snob, but I do think Persuasion is a masterpiece. It’s quiet and autumnal and ordinary, which is why it’s so good, I think. It feels like real life, and then it rings a joyous peal over you of second chances and redemption and forgiveness for foolish choices made and the slow blossoming of love born of deep mutual respect and affection and not, against expectation and probability, dead, even after eight years. Of all Austen’s stories, it strikes the deepest chord with me.
The characters, as usual, are impeccably drawn. I don’t know that Anne is my favorite of Austen’s heroines, but I also don’t know that she isn’t. She’s one of those characters, when I first read the book, I was surprised to learn that somebody actually wrote characters like that. I knew plenty of people like her – in some ways I was very like her myself – but I thought authors just never wrote about people like her. Gentle, dutiful, good – yet also overlooked and taken advantage of, even sometimes by the people who loved her, because they had a forceful personality and her best interests at heart but were a little bit stupid. It makes me mad sometimes, actually, how often people are stupid and can’t get it through their heads that this person you love is DIFFERENT than you. And you might be trying so hard to make her life better, but actually you’re making it worse, because she’s so gentle and conscientious that she’ll give in to you and blight her own future and you’re so STUPID you’ll never even realize what you’re guilty of. Because you’re STUPID.
I don’t know if it was obvious, but Lady Russell frustrates me. She’s painfully true to life. And she’s a good person who really loves Anne, which is what makes it so frustrating!
Anyway, Anne is lovely. Her character growth is lovely. Same for Captain Wentworth. Their story is beautiful.
And Captain Harville is an absolute dear.
SECOND PLACE // NORTHANGER ABBEY
Henry Tilney is my favorite Austen hero, so. He is witty and yet not careless of other people’s feelings. And he appreciates Catherine, who is such a darling.
Austen’s wit is, in general, on full display here. Her portraits of the Thorpes are absolutely merciless. I love the Gothic novel parody going on, and how Catherine is basically fiction’s first fangirl and lets her imagination get away from her with such regularity.
It’s just…a good time. And very smart. And has Henry Tilney in it.
THIRD PLACE // SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Definitely one of the most actually romantic and romance-focused that Austen wrote, possibly because it was the first one she published? What makes this one for me is the characters. And also nostalgia, I suppose, since it was the first Jane Austen book I read. I was nine and quite enamored.
Which, in its turn, is quite possibly because of Elinor. As I said, I was nine. My reading this far had, I guess, led me to believe that fiction was entirely populated by hot-tempered heroines who were always saying things they shouldn’t and letting their feelings run away with them and getting into scrapes.
Which was all fine and good. I liked heroines like that. (Still do.) But what an odd sensation, to realize that people actually write books sometimes about characters who are like me! Who never lose their tempers or say what they think if it has the smallest chance of offending someone (and hence often become the confidante of both sides) or let their feelings run away with them. Who never, in fact, show their feelings. And who are reproached for it by the people who do, and who are assumed to not HAVE feelings because we don’t show them and…I didn’t know, when I reread this recently, if I’d still find Elinor so impossibly relatable, because maybe it was just the first time I’d read a quiet, calm, capable heroine and that was why I latched onto her so strongly…but no. HIGHLY RELATABLE. (I am much more blunt now than I was as a child and will say what I think to people if they ask – but they don’t usually, you know – and am not nearly as socially adept as Elinor. But still highly relatable.)
And so well-drawn? It’s all so accurate. How does Jane Austen capture people (like Elinor and Marianne and Mrs Dashwood) so very accurately?
I suppose that’s rather a personal reason for liking this one so much, but I really like Elinor, not just relate to her, and it was so awesome to me that she was the main heroine rather than Marianne, who, according to my experience, should without a doubt have been the heroine. And I love Marianne too, especially as more of a secondary character whose flaws aren’t excused but who is still a lovely girl, and I’m exceedingly fond of Colonel Brandon.
And Edward’s a pretty nice chap as well.
FOURTH PLACE // PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
It may come fourth in the list, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. Pride and Prejudice is rightfully iconic. Lizzie is a delight, Jane is a dear, the Bennet parents are a hoot, Darcy is a fascinating character study, and I wouldn’t object to marrying Bingley. And there’s lots of drama.
Wickham is one of my favorite Austen villains, too. So slimy and despicable. I wish he came to a worse end, honestly. I hope that’s not dreadfully vindictive of me, but what a…well, I kind of promised myself once I wouldn’t ever refer to any human being as trash because it bothers me so much when other people do it and I think it’s wrong? I won’t make an exception, but I did think about making one for Wickham. Just ugh.
FIFTH PLACE // EMMA
I haven’t read this one since I was little, but I definitely liked it! It reminds me of Persuasion with how real and ordinary it all is, and I like that. I find Harriet insipid, and Emma sometimes gets on my nerves a trifle though I’m fond of her, but Mr Knightley is a solid human being and We Approve.
Yeah…I like Mr Knightley, that’s most of my feelings on this one.
Oh, and Frank Churchill. I don’t know if I like him or not – I don’t think he’s an out-and-out villain – but he adds a spice to life, for sure.
The Eltons are delightfully awful.
Mainly this isn’t my favorite just because Emma gets on my nerves sometimes, which puts it lower than Pride and Prejudice whose heroine I am deeply fond of, and then I don’t have the same personal connection to it (or to Pride and Prejudice) that I do to Sense and Sensibility. Then it’s probably as funny as Pride and Prejudice, but not quite as witty, and even Pride and Prejudice falls short of the sparkling, clear-eyed brilliance of Northanger Abbey. And then none of them, of course, have quite the SOUL-STIRRING BEAUTY of Persuasion.
So hopefully that explained the ranking order a bit.
LAST PLACE // MANSFIELD PARK
Also haven’t read this one since I was little, which means perhaps I’m not being fair to it, but it’s going last because I don’t actually like it.
Fanny is a lovely character (Jane Austen writes strong women and, again, We Approve), but Edmund DOES NOT deserve her. Mary Crawford is annoying and it annoys me excessively that there’s some dramatic reason Edmund comes to realize she’s no good. It feels like an authorly cop-out, actually, in my opinion. I wanted Edmund to GROW to realize that she’s not the right one, but instead circumstances have to write it in letters of fire in front of his face that she isn’t, because nothing short of that is going to convince him, apparently.
Which, fine. Maybe men are that oblivious when infatuated. (They…totally are, actually, a lot of the time.) I still don’t like it. It feels unfair to Fanny that her goodness can only ever be perceived by contrast with someone else’s badness.
Fanny just…deserved better all around. And that’s how I feel about it.
BONUS // MOVIE ADAPTATION RANKING
I thought this would be fun to do real quick, too.
Fair warning that I’m not a big fan of period dramas and definitely have some unpopular opinions here, lol.
Starting with WORST, we have the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma. I actually only watched the beginning and couldn’t stand it – weirdly gloomy, stiff and wooden, weird music? They were going for something but I’m not sure what. My mom and sisters watched the whole thing and said it didn’t get any better. So that’ll be a no from me, thanks.
In NEXT WORST place we have that 1995 Persuasion movie. I thought it might be good at first, but then it was just…slow and did that period-drama thing where people stare at each other a lot. And also stare out windows a lot. Sometimes at the rain, to signify Bleak Sadness and Despairing Uncertainty As To What The Future Holds But It’s Probably Boring. Sometimes just…out the window. Also the proposal scene at the end was horrifically awkward. No thank you.
Coming in at THIRD WORST is the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Yes yes, don’t kill me. I liked it fine the first time I saw it (it was mildly cool to kind of see the book play out on screen word for word?), but my mom and I rewatched it recently and just…it’s so long. And boring. And did people really talk like that? Really? Like, with super proper diction but also always sounding like they’re out of breath because…conveying emotion through your voice is hard in a Regency piece, I guess? And why is EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION punctuated by awkward silences? And why do people do so much STARING? GET ON WITH THE MOVIE, WOULD YOU? *cough* so…that one’ll also be a no from me. (But Jennifer Ehle was lovely, that I will say. Very charming, very Lizzie.)
Coming in next at FOURTH WORST, or maybe THIRD BEST, I’m not sure, is the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. That’s right, I like it better than the long one. *ducks half-heartedly to avoid the rotten vegetables and occasional metal projectile* This one was actually fine the first TWO times I watched it. Keira Knightley does a nice, modern Lizzie, who’s not very Regency but who is at least feisty in a way modern people pick up on. It’s a pretty movie, if not a historically accurate one. It moves along at a good pace, has nice music, keeps the gist of a bunch of good lines from the book, doesn’t involve TOO much staring (but still plenty of rain), and gives Mrs Bennet depth. Which is awesome. But also Mr Bennet is no good, and it loses charm on rewatches, and the ending is truly painful to watch.
Getting to the end now, in SECOND BEST place I present to you the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. I remember that it was good. Rather serious and dramatic, like the book, but I Felt Things when Elinor reached her breaking point and was like…well, I forget the line, but basically, “YES, Marianne, I DO have feelings! And it HASN’T BEEN EASY. And you haven’t helped!” Elinor and Marianne were superbly acted, although I totally forget Colonel Brandon, which is sad but possibly more my memory’s fault than the character’s memorability. Not sure what I’d think if I rewatched it (might be a little long and sad), but I quite enjoyed it the first time.
And finally, for BEST OF ALL, I give you…the 2009 Emma miniseries!!!! I’ve watched this three times and enjoyed it immensely every time. It’s bright and funny. Romola Garai’s facial expressions are truly inimitable. The costuming and set is gorgeous, Mr Knightley is the Knightleyest, Frank Churchill the Churchillyest, Mr Elton is suitably horrid (and his wife SO vulgar) and it’s just a good time.
Okay! That’s all that! I hope it was mildly interesting! And I do hope you will tell me how you’d rank Jane Austen’s novels! (Movie opinions welcome too but PLEASE don’t kill me about my P&P opinions, I’m sorryyyy XD)