The best Jane Austen books to read now

Ella Dove
Photo credit: JannHuizenga - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

Jane Austen books have shaped our history. Her colourful characters, unique wit and gift for compelling romance are a timeless reminder of the complex sphere of human emotion.

So, which are the best Jane Austen books? It’s a tricky one, that’s for sure. She writes funny and poignant, light and sombre, covering all shades of life – and that means there’s a book out there for everyone.

For those who tend to shy away from classic novels, Jane Austen is a brilliant and accessible place to start. And if you’ve always meant to read Jane Austen’s books but never quite got round to it, now is the time!

Here, we’ve rounded up our favourites. How many have you read?

Pride and Prejudice

For a start, this compelling classic probably has one of the most memorable first lines in history: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

And while many of us immediately imagine a shirtless Colin Firth, there is far more to Pride and Prejudice than that. Austen’s wit and knack for drawing colourful, loveable characters really comes through in this brilliant, iconic novel.

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Emma

Emma came back into the cultural sphere earlier this year when the film starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Miranda Hart was released in February. The plot centres around a young woman, Emma Woodhouse, who enjoys playing matchmaker for those around her – often causing more problems than solutions.

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Sense and Sensibility

This 1811 novel was originally published anonymously, with the words “by a lady” in place of Austen’s name. It tells the story of three sisters who find themselves in poverty following the death of their father. While it displays a more serious undertone than some of Austen’s other novels, we love that it’s packed full of lyricism, poignancy and heart.

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Persuasion

Persuasion is the last novel fully completed by Jane Austen. It was published at the end of 1817, six months after her death, and follows the life of Anne Elliot, whose family move to lower their expenses and get out of debt, renting their home to an Admiral and his wife.

The wife’s brother, Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth, had been engaged to Anne in 1806, and they meet again, both single and unattached, after no contact for over seven years. Persuasion is the story of a second chance – and is arguably one of the most romantic and moving of Austen’s novels.


Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey is a coming-of-age satire novel, about Catherine Morland, who leaves her sheltered, rural home to enter the busy, sophisticated world of Bath in the late 1790s. While it was the first of Austen's novels to be completed for publication in 1803, it was only published posthumously in 1817, along with Persuasion.

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Mansfield Park

Opinion is often divided about Mansfield Park, one of Austen’s more serious, moral books. The novel tracks the life of introverted Fanny Price, starting when her overburdened family sends her, aged 10, to live in the household of her wealthy aunt and uncle. While Fanny is sometimes deemed as an unlikeable protagonist, she has a knack for reading people – and her character is beautifully drawn.

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