The Perfect Summer Read? Jane Austen, of Course!

By Darcie Hart Riedner

          Living in Oregon it may not be as apparent as other areas of the country but if summer  begins for you with the end of the school year then the season is just around the corner. Even if you are a purist and wait for the official Solstice it is only weeks away. Summer is the best time of year to revisit classics and nothing is better than a visit to Lyme with Anne Elliot in Persuasion or a picnic at Delaford with Marianne and Elinor in Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Austen’s novels make a great choice for summer reading because they are not too long, provide an escape to another place and time and of course test the bounds of heartbreak and romance. The ending of an Austen novel is always satisfying in its predictability. The heroine wins the heart of her beloved and those who would be seen as villainous do not have a happy ending. Austen’s novels depict the class consciousness and social rituals of courtship and marriage of her time and she became a leading writer on socials manners and the distinctions between city and country life.

Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma stand as Austen’s best known works. If these are too familiar, seek out Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey. Northanger Abbey was her first work accepted for publication in 1803 but then not published until fourteen years later. Persuasion was the last novel Austen completed before her death in 1817.

Three of Austen’s incomplete and less familiar works, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon can be found bound together in a Penguin Classic edition. The explanation of the three stories from Penguin explains: “These three short works show Austen experimenting with a variety of different literary styles, from melodrama to satire, and exploring a range of social classes and settings. The early epistolary novel “Lady Susan” depicts an unscrupulous coquette, toying with the affections of several men. In contrast, “The Watsons” is a delightful fragment, whose spirited heroine – Emma – finds her marriage opportunities limited by poverty and pride. Meanwhile “Sanditon”, set in a seaside resort, offers a glorious cast of hypochondriacs and spectators, treated by Austen with both amusement and skepticism.”

For those especially damp and dreary Summer days, Austen’s most familiar works have been adapted into movies and television shows since 1938. Blu-Ray and DVD’s are available of  many of the productions of Austen’s books including the popular 1996 A&E television mini-series production of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth. If you are lucky you can also find a rental of the 1940’s Pride and Prejudice starring Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier.

Jane Austen’s books and Summer are the perfect combination. They go together like a cold glass of ice tea on a hot sunny day― they are refreshing and familiar, welcome and satisfying―which is the best thing about a book in June.