As I imagine is fairly typical for British readers of a certain age, my first encounter with Jane Austen was via the iconic BBC television version of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. But when I eventually turned to its source material I was delighted to find the book just as witty, clever, and engaging – and easy to read despite being written over 200 years ago. Yet, Austen is adored to this day for her sharp social commentary, and her vivid, complex characters, creating novels that continue to entertain and enchant.
Of course, the order you should read Austen's body of work hugely depends on what you are looking to get from her – or what you already enjoy reading. I’ve tried to highlight the particular joys of each title so that you can choose to go your own way and start with the book that most speaks to you.
Although this list is one suggested pathway, there’s no right or wrong way to discover an author but to get you started I've divided this list, roughly, into Austen’s three more light-hearted and overtly funny books as the best place to start, followed by her three more melancholy reads once you’re fully in the Austen rhythm.
Bonus Reading: While these are Austen’s full, completed novels, she also wrote a lot of marginalia and other vignettes, as well as a short novel Austen never submitted for publication. Available as a little clothbound classic form as Lady Susan, it’s a darkly funny story of a beautiful widow in her thirties who enjoys toying with men for her own entertainment, and what happens when she descends on her brother and sister-in-law with her teenage daughter in tow. Or there’s Love and Friendship, a novel Austen wrote when she was fourteen. Thought to have been written to entertain her family, it’s a parody of romantic novels and it’s fascinating to be able to see the beginnings of her sparkly wit and disdain for romantic cliches.