Jane Austen (1775-1817) was an English novelist known mainly for her six major novels which critique, analyse and remark upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century. Austen is particularly known for her female characters, who are often strong-willed, intelligent and decisive, yet dependent on marriage as a means of securing favourable social standing and financial security. As such, Austen’s novels frequently explore the role of upper-class women living within a patriarchal society.
Though she earned some acclaim during her lifetime – particularly via novels such as Sense and Sensibility – Austen’s works gained far more notoriety after her premature death at 41 years old, and in the time since, her six full-length novels have rarely been out of print. Literary criticism praises her use of irony, as well as the social commentary and realism that characterises her novels.
Here’s a breakdown of Jane Austen’s books in order, highlighting her novels and short stories.
Now referred to as the Juvenilia, these volumes are comprised of poems, short stories and plays that young Austen wrote for her family to enjoy. Austen herself compiled copies of these early works into three bound notebooks, which contain pieces written between 1787 and 1793. A highlight from the collection is short story The Beautifull Cassandra [sic], which is a parody of melodramatic and sentimental novels that were popular at the time.
Lesley Castle: An Unfinished Novel in Letters
Penned when she was just 14 years old, ‘Lesley Castle’ was unfinished at the time of Austen’s death. Presented as a series of letters, it follows the musings of Miss Margaret Lesley and Charlotte Lutterell as they discuss subjects such as adultery, elopement, divorce and remarriage. It quickly becomes clear that the women are deeply shallow, and Austen mocks them using her signature wit and social satire.
A short novel written as a collection of letters, Lady Susan was possibly written in 1794 but was not published until 1871. The early complete work, which Austen never submitted for publication, describes the schemes of Lady Susan, who is a selfish, unscrupulous, scheming and highly attractive woman who is perfectly unashamed of her relationship with a married man. It was adapted into an acclaimed film called Love & Friendship in 2016.
Likely started in 1803, The Watsons was an abandoned novel by Austen. It is unclear why she didn’t complete it; however, it could be that her father’s death in 1805 had an impact upon Austen’s writing. The Watsons follow a family who are the poorest family seen in a work by Austen: one of the main characters, Elizabeth, cares for their sickly father and handles some of the domestic tasks. The novel thus revolves around the need for the four sisters to marry well. Before it was eventually published in 1871, Austen’s niece had attempted a continuation of it in 1850.
Sense and Sensibility
Among Austen’s most famous works, Sense and Sensibility was originally published anonymously – ‘By A Lady” appears on the title page where the author’s name might have been. The novel follows the Dashwood sisters as they come of age and navigate finding husbands, and is probably set between 1792 and 1797. The novel sold out its first print run of 750 copies in the middle of 1813, marking the first proper success that Austen enjoyed. It was the first Austen title to be republished after her death, has been in continuous publication since 1811 and has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times.
Pride and Prejudice
Arguably Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice follows the character of Elizabeth Bennet and her four sisters as they all try to find a husband. It features one of the most famous male romantic figures in literature, the elusive Mr. Darcy, who eventually ends up marrying the intelligent, headstrong and witty Elizabeth. The novel consistently appears amongst the top of lists of ‘most-loved books’ in English literature, has sold over 20 million copies and has sparked numerous adaptations for stage and screen.
Austen’s third novel, Mansfield Park was first published in 1814, but did not receive any public reviews until 1821. The novel tells the story of Fanny Price who is sent to live in the household of wealthy relatives as she experiences adolescence, learns from her mistakes and eventually marries. Though the novel was initially ignored by critics, it was a hit with the public and was reprinted as a second edition after just 6 months.
A comedy of manners that explores issues of marriage, sex, age and social status, Austen noted that in the character of Emma she intended to write a heroine who was spoiled, headstrong and conceited, knowing that she would divide her audience. The novel is set around the fictional country village of Highbury and examines the relationships among people from different families. Like in her other novels, Austen explores the concerns and difficulties of upper class women living in Georgian-Regency England. It was the last novel to be published during her lifetime: Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published posthumously.
An unfinished novel, Sanditon had a working title of The Brothers. Austen started writing it in January 1817 and completed 11 chapters before stopping in mid-March 1817, likely because of illness. The story centres around the inhabitants of a seaside town called Sanditon, likely inspired by Austen’s time spent in Worthing, West Sussex. A full transcription of the 11 chapters was first published in 1925 under the title Fragment of a Novel. Sanditon has since been loosely adapted for screen.
A coming-of-age novel and a satire of Gothic novels, Northanger Abbey was completed in 1803, meaning it was the first of Austen’s novels to be completed in full. However, like Persuasion, the novel was published posthumously, in 1817. The story revolves around Catherine Morland, a naïve young protagonist who embarks on a journey to better understand herself and the world around her, in the face of her imagination which has been distorted by Gothic novels.
The last novel completed by Jane Austen, Persuasion was published six months after her death, though the title page is dated 1818. The story follows Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old English woman who is persuaded to become engaged again to Captain Frederick Wentworth, to whom she had previously been betrothed. Though well-received in the early 19th century, Persuasion‘s more significant fame emerged later in the century and into the 20th and 21st centuries. It has been the subject of many adaptations for stage and screen.