I love Jane Austen. I’ve read all of her completed novels (some more than twice), and her stories are some of my absolute favourites. Due to my enthusiasm for Jane Austen’s work,, several of my friends have been inspired to pick up one of her books – and then promptly put it back down.
Here’s my theory. The issue is not that Jane Austen’s novels are bad. I mean, I’m sure that for a few of these cases, these books just aren’t for those friends. But for many of my friends, who I know that these books are right up their alley, I’m convinced that they just didn’t know where to start. They’d never seen a mountain before, as it were, and they decided to go straight up to a black diamond slope without even a glance toward the bunny hill.
So here’s my advice. My noob’s guide to Jane Austen.
My first piece of advice is to start with a film adaptation. Shocking, I know, but I always enjoy her books more the second time around, and I think it’s because they’re easier to read when you know where she’s going with the story. Starting with a movie gives you a condensed, generally easy-to-understand rundown of the story.
My second piece of advice is to not start with Pride and Prejudice. Another shock, I know. It’s her most well known piece of work! Every one who’s romantically interested in men wants a Mr. Darcy! It’s on all the lists to read before you die! Why am I depriving you of this experience? Because Pride and Prejudice is a bit of a beast, and if you’re just starting out, it’s difficult to read a book that long when the language feels so difficult. My first Austen was Pride and Prejudice, and I really didn’t see what all the fuss was about. It wasn’t until my second read through that I was familiar enough with the society and the language to actually appreciate and understand all that was going on.
So my third tip is to start with Northanger Abbey (and not just because it’s my favourite). The film version with Felicity Jones and J.J. Fields is wonderful (and awkward and adorable). It’s shorter than her more popular novels (250 pages rather than 400+), and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It was actually originally written as satire, so her dry sense of humour is on full display throughout the novel, making it arguably one of her funniest. Another advantage comes from our protagonist, Cathy. She is younger than some of our heroines, so she often lets her imagination run away from her. She’s a really fun character to get to follow around. Cathy is introduced to society in this novel, which means that she spends a good chunk of the book learning how society works. Perfect for us, because we need to learn, too. Mr. Tilney, although full of sass, is lovable from the beginning, so you really do spend the novel rooting for him and Cathy. It makes for an altogether enjoyable read.
So there you have it. My tips for getting started with Jane Austen. Do you agree with these? Have any other tips for people wanting to jump into these classics for the first time?