Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Jane Austen Reading Calendar

Yesterday my mom called me to ask which Jane Austen novel her book club should read for October. This juxtaposition of author and month inspired me to try to match each of the six Jane Austen novels with the best time of year to read them, so I'm taking a brief break from working on my sermon (latest theme: "I Have No Idea What I'm Talking About, But God Loves Me Anyway") to post this here.

N.B.: If you're interested in Austen as a writer rather than as an author -- how she developed her style, her skills, her subject matter and themes -- the best way to read her is chronologically: the juvenilia, NA, S&S, P&P, MP, Emma, and Persuasion. (This is how I read her complete works for my Austen class in college, and it was amazingly instructive.) But if you're rereading, or just reading for pleasure, you might try the calendar below.

January-February: Northanger Abbey. The first of Austen's novels chronologically, NA is all about the pleasures of fiction -- reading it, imagining yourself into it, escaping to and from it -- so it's perfect for winter, when you want to insulate yourself against the dark and cold with hot chocolate and a hilarious book.

March-April: Mansfield Park. This most divisive and least read of Austen's novels is about purity and rebirth: holding fast to your principles in the face of temptation, and the moral rights and regeneration earned through that principled stand. If worst comes to worst and you loathe Fanny Price, you will have the pleasures of spring to help you through it.

May-June: Emma, so you can eat fresh strawberries while you read the Box Hill scene. (Mom's book group eventually settled on this one.)

July-August: Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen chick lit, the novel most likely to have hot pink type and a brooding hottie on the cover . . . because it is great fun, "light and bright and sparkling," as the author herself said. Read it by the pool with a fruity drink.

September-October: Sense and Sensibility. There is a sharp and at times almost bitter tang to S&S: For long stretches of the book, nearly everything that can go wrong for these girls does, and every person who can be cruel to one or the other (intentionally or not) is, and they are so alone and so poor against the forces of their society . . . You can feel the autumn wind blow through its pages. But S&S is also about maturation: coming to flower, learning and accepting your limits, and letting go towards peace.

November-December: Persuasion. The last of Austen's novels chronologically is also the most suffused with feeling -- with tiny moments that make all the difference -- as gentle Anne Elliot, locked in emotional winter, receives a second chance to bloom. A book to warm you in the cold.


  1. This sent me back to a Sunday post you made in March of this year. I think you owe all your loyal fans a movie review on a JA subject.

  2. I love it! I've been meaning to read more Austen, and now I have a perfect line-up (and lovely descriptions of each work). Thanks!

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  4. I have to give NA a second chance, I think. When I read it, I was so grouchy at the end, but don't remember why.
    Your current sermon theme sounds like my daily mantra.
    Thanks for the Fire and Hemlock recommendation, by the way -- I loved it.

  5. Yes! i totally agree with your month assignations. i love JA, perfect for group or individual reading!

  6. Wonderful calendar, wonderful idea. I'm doing a review of a couple of Austen "sequels" for September's Estella's Revenge... do you mind if I link back to this at the end of my review?

  7. I'd be honored, Melissa. Thanks!

  8. After seeing Becoming Jane a few nights ago, I needed to get the bad taste out of my mouth, so pulled Sense and Sensibility from the shelf. It's nearly September -- maybe there was something subconsciously seasonal to the choice.

    Anybody else seen BJ? I thought it wanted to be Shakespeare in Love but wasn't reverse engineered as cleverly. --m

  9. Becoming Jane...isnt it a movie? The Anne Hathaway thing? Im not sure.

    Anyway, I've read only P&P so far and I think to read it "by the pool with a fruity drink" is a wonderful idea!

  10. Except when they're your favorite, and you can read them anytime (like PERSUASION, good for all occasions) ;)

  11. After seeing Becoming Jane a few nights ago, I needed to get the bad taste out of my mouth...

    I was reticent to see that because I'd heard it wasn't very true to Jane. Plus, somehow I can't picture Anne Hathaway as JA.

    I was just thinking of picking up S&S too. All these dry Santa Ana winds we have out here in SoCal makes me yearn for a real autumn.

  12. This is a very well-thought out and manageable reading schedule. What a great motivation for those of us who've been meaning to re-read "The Big Six" but can't decide where to start!

    I just discovered your blog, but I love it already. :)

  13. I've read the whole JA collection at least five times--always in the order written. I love your seasonal analysis! And have a new reason to read them again.

    As for BECOMING JANE with Anne Hathaway as Jane Austen--I can't wrap my mind around that casting call. I haven't had the chance to see the movie yet, don't know if I will. If I were choosing a young JA, years ago I would have chosen Meryl Streep. Now, I'm not sure who would fit the bill.

    I also tried reading the book about Darcy's Story. I thought it was awful--lacking in JA's graceful language and strong plotting.

  14. Good reading schedule, wish I had seen this before I started reading P&P (followed by S&S and P)...

    As for 'Becoming Jane', as with all movies, liberties were taken. It is a very romanticized account of what could have possibly occured. I think Anne Hathaway was a great casting choice, I think she brough a youthfulness that another actor might not have been able. If you watch the extra features and you listen to what the woman who runs the Jane Austen Society, you'll be even more convinced it was the right choice. If you can take it for what it is, a movie meant to entertain, I think you'll find it really great. Even heart-breaking.

    That's my two cents.