Reading lists

Where to start with Jane Austen

You may have watched a dozen TV and film adaptations but have you read the books? We asked Austen super-fan, Anna James to share her guide to which novel to start with first. 

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As I imagine is quite 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. When I turned to its source material I was delighted to find the book just as witty, clever, and engaging – if not more. Austen is adored for her sharp social commentary, and her vivid, complex characters and all of her work, from the satirical to the romantic, has something to entertain and enchant.

Of course, the order you should read Austen in hugely depends on what you are looking to get from her, or what you enjoy reading. Although this list is one pathway, there’s no right or wrong way to discover an author. 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.

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. Now available as Lady Susan, it’s a darkly funny story of a beautiful widow in her 30s 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 start of her sparkly wit and disdain for romantic cliches. 

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