My quick rank of the six completed novels:
1. Pride & Prejudice - Goodness, I just re-read this novel for at least the tenth time. No better novel, in my opinion - not only Jane's best, but the best novel ever. "Light, bright and sparkling," with the heroine lovingly (and correctly!) described by her creator - "as delightful a creature as ever to appear in print." If you do not love Elizabeth Bennet, you may not be my friend.
2. Mansfield Park - Apparently, from others' opinions I have read, this is the red-headed step-child of the Austen ouvre. I just cannot see why anyone would not love it. It is so marvelously structured and so thoroughly intuited as far as character development. It leaves me in wonder at its perfection of style and tone. Fanny Price may not be the most charismatic of Austen heroines, but the ensemble production more than makes up for any of her deficiencies.
3. Persuasion - What a lovely novel! Austen's humor is still sharp, but the total effect of the work is softer somehow, more autumnal (to use the cliched description for this story). Anne Elliot is so real, and our invitation to her inner-self is one that we should not take too lightly. The major fault of this work is the whole Mrs. Smith revelation of Anne's cousin, which doesn't really work for me. It's rather jarring. I wonder how JA would have refined and re-worked her writing if she had lived to see it through publication. I'm just so grateful that we have it at all.
4. Emma - Emma Woodhouse is not a bad egg, and this novel is quite entertaining in the main. I think it runs on a little long, and some of the sub-plots are strange (what's with Harriet's nearly getting attacked by the gypsies with Frank Churchill's rescuing her?). We could have used a little more of the Eltons, who divert me exceedingly. Emma does not seem to have much to recommend her to Mr. Knightly (she seems to be the least intelligent of Austen's ladies - excepting Catherine Moreland), and Mr. Knightly seems too old for her anyway. The ending always leaves me a little off-kilter and wanting more of something and different of everything.
5. Northanger Abbey - There is a lot of humor in this strange, little work. It is entertaining, but obviously written by a diamond in the rough and not the accomplished author of S&S and beyond.
6. Sense & Sensibility - I have read this through several times, and I just can't force myself to love it over its number six placement. Since it is Jane Austen, it is far better than just about anything else you can read, though. Much like my feelings for Carolyn Arends' songs (about which I always think that the least liked of her songs still beats out a song by anyone else), I'd rather read S&S than something else by another author.
Explaining a long break
4 years ago