How to Read (and Understand) a Jane Austen Novel
Updated: Sep 11
I love Jane Austen novels but they can be so hard to read at times. Most of us are not accustomed to 1800s English so, of course, it’s difficult. Austen’s writing and characters are definitely worth the effort it takes to read.
She has many books to choose from and I am working on reading them all! Thus far I have read *Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and *Persuasion. Sense and Sensibility was the first Jane Austen novel I read because it was on my school’s summer reading list. I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the storyline kept me on my toes the whole time.
Currently, I am reading *Pride and Prejudice!
Here are a few tips that have helped me:
1. Deciding on the book!
a) This is probably the most difficult part since she does have so many! I would recommend, of the ones I have read, Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice. Emma is very long and was a bit slow for me. I loved Persuasion and it is one of the shortest ones; however, the main character is a bit “older” so depending on your age it may be more difficult to connect with her. I read
b) If you are more quiet and/or introverted, you may connect with Elinor from Sense and Sensibility, Anne from Persuasion (she's nothing like Netflix's portrayal of her), or Fanny from Mansfield Park.
c) If you are extroverted and mischievous, you may connect with Emma from *Emma or Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice.
d) A hopeless romantic? Marianne from Sense and Sensibility.
e) Always in your own world? Catherine from Northanger Abbey.
2. Find the audio version (separately or in addition to your physical copy)
b) Your public library’s audiobook (such as Libby or Hoopla for free)
3. Use the (free) app Lit Charts
a) Lit Charts gives a summary and analysis of each chapter. Reading the analysis not only gives the historical context but also connects you may not have picked up while deciphering the text. This app is not a necessity by any means to understand her stories, but maybe especially helpful if reading for school.
4. Watch it
a) Normally, I would not advise on watching the movie before the book but it may be helpful to hear the tone and see the body language so that you know what is going on. This is mainly if you are reading Jane Austen in an academic setting. The BBC series are usually accurate to the original text.
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