Sense and Sensibility deals with the fortunes in romance of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, daughters who could not inherit their father’s property and thus are left in difficult circumstances. The novel contains the unscrupulous Willoughby, a Wickham-like figure. Mansfield Park centers around Fanny Price, a timid girl given up at the age of nine by her weak, overwhelmed parents to her kind uncle Sir Thomas. While being raised in his troubled household, she suffers frequent abuses by empty, snobbish, or spiteful people but ends up growing into the strength of the family. Emma, often regarded as Austen’s finest work, shows the smug title character’s maturation as her failed efforts to control others and the wisdom of Mr. John Knightley gradually deflate her ego. Northanger Abbey, possibly the first of Austen’s completed works, contrasts the melodrama of popular Gothic novels with reality. In it Catherine Moreland, a likeable girl who has read a few too many ghost stories, imagines on scant evidence that the father of the man she loves is engaged in criminal behavior. Persuasion, the writer’s last completed work, is a tender, less satirical novel than its predecessors. The story concerns the quiet pain of Anne Eliot, unmarried at twenty-seven, who through circumstance becomes reacquainted with her now-prosperous ex-fiance, a man she still loves-Frederick Wentworth. Years before she had broken their engagement on the advice of a trusted friend. Avid Austen readers will also enjoy Austen’s letters, juvenile writings, and unfinished works, all of which can be found in the convenient volume Minor Works, published by Oxford University Press.
Readers may also be interested in the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice. The lavish production, which stars Sir Laurence Olivier as Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet, also features Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O’Sullivan in supporting roles. Aldous Huxley co-authored the screenplay, which retains the wit and verve of Austen’s novel.