Battle of the books: Jane Austen

In honor of the total of 4 books I’ve read so far this summer (*guilty shudder*), I think it’s time for a battle of the books, which we did on one of our last days of Jane Austen class.  I will only be using these 4 because I read Sense and Sensibility too long ago for it to get a fair trial, and I have not yet read Mansfield Park; I’m just using the ones we read for my recent class.  I will be brief; these are by no means meant to be full reviews, just quick snippets of my opinions and conclusions.  Here we go.

The contenders:

Pride and Prejudice

The most well-known of Austen’s novels; probably because it is the most widely adapted.  But does that make it the best Austen novel?  The classic boy-meets-girl, girl-hates-boy, boy-turns-out-to-be-a-hero, just-kidding-girl-loves-boy and they-live-happily-ever-after story is one of the most iconic love story frameworks ever.  The characters are memorable and often hilarious, and the novel holds a special place in my heart.  Why it does not win: because I never pick the most famous and familiar work.  It’s like saying your favorite Disney character is Mickey Mouse.  That’s boring.

Persuasionpersuasion

Jane Austen’s last and arguably most mature novel.  In my opinion, it is the most sombre and least “light, bright, and sparkly” novel.  My reading of this book was probably hurt due to circumstance, because I read it in the middle, after my reread of P&P, after Emma, and before Northanger Abbey.   So naturally, it was the least memorable of the 4 because of the order in which I read them.  However, the main reason why this book does not win (despite it being a high contender among opinions for Austen’s best work) is that it did not make me laugh.  I know Austen does everything for a reason, and that this book is extremely well crafted, but I really did miss her younger, more chipper voice.  I suppose it’s just a matter of taste.

Northanger Abbey

I love this novel because it is so different from the rest in its satire and direct address.  This book reveals Austen’s voice stronger than many of the others just from the simple fact that she gives her unabashed opinions to her readers directly.  In short, it is brilliant.  Why it’s not the winner: Catherine Morland is too annoying and ditsy for me.  Obviously this was done on purpose, and I never ever like to base my opinions of books on the likability of the characters, however, in the context of comparing it with the other Austen novels, I tend to enjoy rooting for the heroine rather than being exasperated with her.  Which brings me nicely to the winner:

Emma

I know a lot of people get frustrated with Emma as a heroine but for me, Emma was SO MUCH FUN to be frustrated with.  Not only do I love Emma as a character, but Austen’s style and narrative technique in this novel is absolutely brilliant.  The ways she weaves in and out of free indirect discourse and uses it not only for humor, but to draw the reader into Emma’s psyche…brilliant.  Some of the story was a bit predictable, but whether you figure it out or not is a challenge for which each result makes sense – if you do figure it out, it shows just how clueless Emma is; if you don’t, it shows just how enticing she is.  And that’s the charm of her character.  Yes, it’s her longest novel, and some people say not enough happens in all those pages, but that just shows how great of a writer Austen is to make “nothing” so interesting.

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