Which Is The Best Jane Austen Tale?

Ranking Jane Austen’s greatest sagas isn’t easy when they’re all so wonderful. But here’s a rundown to get you debating…

Which is the best Jane Austen?

Jane Austen wrote many great novels, many of which have since been adapted for the screen. Starting with number six and working up to our favourite, here's our ranking of the best stories. Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park.

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park.

6. MANSFIELD PARK

Imagine if Jane Austen had written her very own version of Cinderella: that's Mansfield Park in a nutshell. It's the story of Fanny Price, a poor, sweet, perfectly virtuous girl who's raised by her cold and aloof relatives and eventually finds love when she least expects it. But the reason this tale often catches people unawares is that Fanny isn't the sort of sparkling lead character we expect from Jane Austen. Instead, she's just a nice, ordinary girl who's utterly out of her depth, and we have to learn to see the world through her wide eyes. While she's a fascinating character to follow, Fanny's prim and proper personality does tend to divide people, which is why we've put it at number six.

A scene from the adaptation of Jane Austens novel Northanger Abbey.

A scene from the adaptation of Jane Austens novel Northanger Abbey.

5. NORTHANGER ABBEY

Is Northanger Abbey the most unusual story Jane Austen? In some ways yes, since it was directly inspired by Gothic horror novels which were all the rage in her day. In fact, it's a parody of the genre, and the instrument of Austen's wit is the heroine Catherine Morland, who has gorged on so many Gothic tales that she starts to see sinister things around every corner and even comes to believe her prospective father-in-law is a murderer straight out of one her beloved novels. It's not your ordinary romantic comedy by any means, but with its sumptuous Bath setting and exploration of Georgian tastes, it's a must for all true Jane Austen addicts.

Amanda Root as Anne Elliott in Persuasion.

Amanda Root as Anne Elliott in Persuasion.

4. PERSUASION

We all love Jane Austen because of the bright, breezy atmosphere of her world. Perhaps that's why Persuasion is often (unfairly) sidelined, because this is a more challenging story of regret and redemption. Never mind "boy meets girl" - when the story begins, the boy has already met and lost the girl. She, Anne Elliot, was persuaded to end her relationship with Frederick Wentworth because of his seemingly poor financial prospects. We rejoin them almost a decade later, with Wentworth a wealthy military man, and Anne in danger of being left on the shelf. It's a ravishing story of missed opportunities and second chances, but its lack of pep means it'll stay out of the top three.

Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens), Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey), Willoughby (Dominic Cooper), Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) and Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield) in Sense and Sensibility.

Edward Ferrars (Dan Stevens), Colonel Brandon (David Morrissey), Willoughby (Dominic Cooper), Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) and Marianne Dashwood (Charity Wakefield) in Sense and Sensibility.

3. SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

We're onto the three most famous Austens now, and this is where debate will really start to heat up. You could easily argue that Sense and Sensibility should be even higher up the list, thanks to its richly layered plot following the sisters Elinor and Marianne, who have to discover the ways of the world (and of romance) after losing their family fortune. Contrasting the good sense of Elinor with the passionate intensity of Marianne, and presenting a trio potential suitors including a handsome rogue and a noble gentleman, this is far more than a regular romance: it's a coming-of-age tutorial that can still teach us so much today.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley and Romola Garai as Emma in Jane Austen's Emma.

Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightley and Romola Garai as Emma in Jane Austen's Emma.

2. EMMA

When Jane Austen created Emma Woodhouse, she was convinced nobody else would like her. You can see why: Emma is a pampered, self-indulgent and comically misguided brat who can't help playing Cupid despite all the damage her meddling does. Yet that's exactly why Emma - the story - is right up there with the very best of Austen. If Emma had been a perfectly likeable heroine, it would have been a bland rom-com. Instead, it's a love story with a serious edge, with Emma learning to become a wiser and better person while recognizing the truth of her own hidden feelings. And who among us wouldn't love to have a friend like Mr Knightley in our lives?

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.

1. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

The top spot was never in question, was it? While some aficionados may argue it's not as complex or profound as some of her other stories, the fact is that Pride and Prejudice is THE definitive Austen saga, and not just because of the sparky, sparring romance between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Almost every other character is unforgettable, from the monstrous Mrs Bennet to the queenly Lady Catherine de Bourgh. And there's sheer joy to be had in the precision of the plot, the slowly discovery of truths and lies, and individual moments like Mr Collins's cringey proposal to Lizzy - so funny even Darcy would have to raise a smile. Almost.