Jane Austen is one of English literature’s most famous authors, which is all the more impressive considering she’s only written six full-length novels. Given that they were written over 200 years ago, you might wonder if they are still relevant today. If you take into consideration the moral questions that are posed in all of his works, then yes, in that light, they are worth reading. His in-depth investigation of inequality, social status, and the issue of class and gender divide were among Austen’s main themes.
Morality aside, Austen’s witty sarcastic humor alone is worth the read.
Austen often falls into the trap of being a romance novelist, but she is much more than that. All of her works explore gender, inequality, money and education, making her a precocious feminist. Austen does more than hint at the need for gender equality and strives for it through her heroines defying the gender norms of the time and purposefully pushing for more agency.
When Austen was writing, women had very few legal, social, educational, and financial rights, and only very few women could own their own property, imagine, back then, women couldn’t even get into a university. This was a heavy cross for the middle class woman, given that there was also a huge stigma attached to a middle class woman working for income, the constraints were many. The incredible characters she created and the moral structure of all of her works as a whole are as relevant today as they always have been.
Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Perhaps one of the most famous opening phrases in a book, “It is a universally recognized truth that a bachelor in possession of good fortune must need a wife” sets the stage perfectly for what’s to come. The story centers on the Bennet family and their flighty, flighty mother who constantly insists on the pervasive issue of marriage over her five daughters, at a time when women could not make a fortune, let alone inherit it. We follow second-eldest daughter Elizabeth as she navigates her feelings around the harsh judgments she passes on newcomer Mr. Darcy for what she believes to be her own disapproving assumptions about the character of herself and her family. In a journey of tangled love and romance, we follow Elizabeth as she comes to understand what it means to administer judgment on others without considering the full picture, as she continues to ultimately observe the difference. between the superficial kind of goodness that people may display to appear good, and the actual goodness of the spirit that is freely given without reward or merit.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Reason and sensibility (1811)
Brought to perfection in Ang Lee’s 90s film, we follow the delightful story of the Dashwood family as they overcome challenges of the heart. Austen intelligently deliberates between how much is too much and how much is not enough when it comes to expressing sentiment. Marianne Dashwood is vocal, poetic and wears her heart on her sleeve. When she falls in love with handsome but misfit John Willoughby, his reckless behavior leaves her open to unnecessary gossip that can do more harm than good, especially in the age of 1800s propriety. Meanwhile, her sister Elder Elinor, always sensitive to convention and decorum, finds it difficult to express her own romantic feelings, even to her loved ones. On their journey of love and loss, the sisters learn that sensitivity must prevail if they are to find happiness in a society where position, reputation, and money determine who can love whom.
SENSE AND SENSITIVITY
Emma Woodhouse, a smart and brilliant twenty-year-old, thinks she’s gifted in the art of matchmaking. After the successful establishment of her governess and Mr. Weston, Emma sets her sights on her new friend Harriet Smith. Declaring with the pride of youth that she knows what is best in love, she ignores or is blind to what is really best. And it’s with that in mind that we follow Emma as she navigates her way through the incompatibility between Harriet and Frank. Emma’s longtime friend Mr. Knightley, is thrown into the mix, as he watches from the sidelines, offering critical advice when she may have gone too far. Emma finds herself insane when she realizes that with all her well-meaning shenanigans, she may have left it too late to find love.
Austen’s favorite themes of young love and second chances are at the heart of this story. Widely considered his most moving novel, Persuasion follows the story of Anne Elliot, who is the daughter of elitist Sir Walter Elliot. Anne, who is of a quiet nature at nineteen, fell in love and became engaged to Captain Wentworth. Due to the fact that Wentworth had no fortune at the time, Anne was persuaded to give it up. Now, eight years later, Wentworth is back in the neighborhood, wealthy and single. Anne finds that his feelings are as strong as they were when they were engaged. Can she convince him to give her a second chance?
Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous)
Northanger Abbey is a classic coming of age story. Catherine Morland is a curious and innocent seventeen-year-old teenager from a small country town, who just happens to be a fan of gothic novels. While vacationing in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets Henry Tilney and falls madly in love. Responding to an invitation to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. She finds that once there, and perhaps influenced by her books, her imagination, and the old atmosphere of the castle, her spirit flees from her, casting terrible suspicion on everyone and everything. Henry persuades her to see the danger of confusing life with art. But can she trust him?
Mansfield Park (1814)
Considered Janes Austen’s most mature work, the story follows young Fanny Price rising from poverty to be raised with her wealthy cousins in Mansfield Park. Well aware of her position, she feels like a continual outcast with everyone except her dear cousin Edmund, who becomes her only friend. In the absence of her uncle, who is on a trip, the Crawfords arrive on the scene, bringing with them all the provocative and daring glamor that London has to offer. mansfield park is a calm and profound exploration of social norms and morals.