The 10 best Jane Austen characters

Recently I read an online post by The Guardian commemorating the bicentennial of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Title? “The 10 Best Jane Austen Characters.” You will find the list here.

Note that the characters weren’t chosen by Guardian writers, but by Austen biographer Paula Byrne. And by “best” Byrne clearly means the most intriguing, the ones eliciting strong responses from the reader. NOT the “nicest and prettiest.”

While I found myself disagreeing with some, the list prompted me to come up with my own list of characters from Austen’s complete novels.

1. Mr. Collins is arguably Austen’s greatest comic character. Oily, pompous, hypocritical and utterly clueless and ridiculous, he simultaneously repulses and amuses. Pride and Prejudice

2. Lady Susan. Duh. She’s a cougar-homewrecker who parties hard and hates her daughter for getting in the way. Eloquent, beautiful, charming and deadly, Lady Susan is the woman every man’s mother warned about. I stayed up past midnight last night reading this scandalous short novel. Lady Susan

3. It’s impossible to omit one of literature’s greatest heroines, Elizabeth Bennet. She refuses to bend to society’s conventions, possesses an invaluable sense of humor, and admits when she’s in the wrong. Plus she exercises daily. Pride and Prejudice

4. Elinor Dashwood is poised and levelheaded in the face of calamity. She will sacrifice her time and comfort for friends and family, but will also speak out when they go too far – she’s not a doormat. Sense &Sensibility

5. A crafty fortune-seeker, Lucy Steele ingratiates herself with adults and their spoiled kids to gain their confidence and affection. In the end, she gets what she wants and gets away with it. Sense &Sensibility

6. Self-absorbed and naïve, yet generous and well intentioned, Emma makes plenty of mistakes but learns from them. She’s the kind of friend you’d go with on shopping/gossip/coffee sessions (but nothing deeper than that). Emma

 7. Lady Catherine de Bourgh spices up the novel with her self-aggrandizing comments, her love of being “useful” and her opposition to the “pollution” of Pemberly. Pride & Prejudice

 8. Captain Wentworth. He’s constant – over eight and a half years! – considerate and a successful naval captain. If nothing else, his eloquent letter to Anne grants him a spot here. “You pierce my soul.”  Persuasion

 9. Henry Tilney sets himself apart from all other Jane Austen heroes: he actually possesses a sense of humor. A minister, of all things, who makes you laugh! Talk about defying literary stereotypes. Northanger Abbey

 10. I never liked Fanny Price, but she deserves a spot here. She’s kind, loving and constant even when the object of her affection is pretty thick-skulled about the whole thing. Mansfield Park

Yes, I omitted Mr. Darcy. I wanted to give others a place first. Anyway, he’s already a given, so what’s the need?

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Favorite Romances: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

So, the announcement you’ve all been waiting for: What are our top four romantic classics? You’ve probably gathered by now that Jane Eyre is one of them, but I’ll give you the full list anyway.

They are (not necessarily in order of favorites, just in the order we’ll talk about them): Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (it got the most votes by those who commented), North and South (the BBC miniseries based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, which has nothing to do the American Civil War), and Beauty and the Beast (Walt Disney’s version and the classic fairy tale). Thanks for your comments!

Now for Jaz’s and Liz’s opinions on Jane Eyre:

Jaz on Jane Eyre

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Jane Eyre is so much more than just a romance. Bold feminism, stinging social commentary, moral dilemmas and delicious scandal leap from its pages. Not to mention lunatic wives locked up in the attic.

Jane’s character inspires: she emerges strong and independent in spite of her troubled past. I admire her moral integrity, passion and – most of all – her stance on gender equality.

Rochester is all about unbridled passion. He’s had numerous affairs, possibly fathered an illegitimate child or two and considers adultery a perfectly reasonable option. But he’s also intelligent, generous and loving.

Note that Jane marries Rochester only after she’s financially independent … and Rochester has lost Thornfield, his sight and an arm to boot. How feminist is that? Brontë was ahead of her time.

Aside from Brocklehurst, I strongly disliked the emotionally-repressed St. John. While not truly a villain, he does manipulate Jane for personal gain.

Other thoughts:

Were Jane and Rochester truly unattractive, or just when measured against contemporary ideals? Brontë describes Rochester as dark, muscular and broad-shouldered, with “granite-hewn features” and beautiful eyes. Jane is slender, pale and petite, with green eyes and hazel hair.

Doesn’t sound so bad to me. I’d take a Mr. Rochester look-alike any day.

The bedroom fire scene is rather scandalous. Rochester wants her to stay (“What, you will go?”), and Jane is confused and elated — but definitely not shocked or repulsed.

The element of creepiness in this novel is fantastic. Demonic laughter, footfalls vanishing into the dark, creaking doors, mysterious fires, foreboding nightmares and dark mansions … As Jean Webster, author of “Daddy Long-Legs” writes, “It’s melodrama of the purest, but just the same, you read and read and read.”

My hat’s off to melodrama.

Liz on Jane Eyre

I must admit to being skeptical about Jane Eyre before I read it. I saw a movie version (I can’t remember which one) as a kid and received the mistaken impression that Jane left a really nice guy to go back to the married Mr. Rochester. I was disappointed in her. Fortunately, at the encouragement of Jaz, I decided to give the book a try a few years ago. I started reading it and my skepticism became enthusiasm. Forgive the cliché, but I couldn’t put the book down. Jane isn’t just the protagonist, she’s a heroine, and even Mr. Rochester turns out a pretty decent hero. With mystery, romance, plenty of plot twists, and main characters I can admire, Jane Eyre is one of my favorite romances.

Notes on Select Characters: Jane’s strength of character, independent spirit, and ability to overcome tragedy are inspiring. Some may disagree, but I believe Jane went back to Thornfield at the end to check on Mr. Rochester, not to live with him. And who wouldn’t go back after those eerie calls? However, I must admit to getting impatient with her when she refuses to accept the beautiful clothes and jewels Mr. Rochester offers her after they’re engaged. I understand her reasoning, but I still want to shake and her and say, “He’s your future husband. Take the stuff and get out of your drab Lowood clothes. There’s nothing wrong with a poor woman marrying a rich man so long as she isn’t marrying him for his money.”

There’s certainly plenty to censure in Mr. Rochester, but there’s plenty to like as well, especially, strangely enough, when you contrast him with St. John Rivers. Both men are charitable and St. John has a cleaner past, but Mr. Rochester loves where St. John brings to mind I Corinthians 13:3 (“And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I am nothing.”).

Adele: Sweet but frivolous girl without whom Jane would never have met Mr. Rochester. It’s interesting that Jane finds love and a home after going to take care of an orphan like herself.

Bessie: Gotta love the outspoken but affectionate maid character.

Diana and Mary: Every girl should have friends like these.

Most loathsome character: Mr. Brocklehurst: Self-righteous villain who misuses Scripture to endorse his lavish lifestyle and feelings of superiority.

Favorite Parts: I love it when Mr. Rochester is about to call Jane “my darling” or some other affectionate name and has to stop himself at “my”. And, it’s not a part exactly, but the depiction of Jane and Mr. Rochester as being the perfect and only match for each other is what makes Jane Eyre one of my favorite romances.

Reader Questions: What do you think of Jane and the other characters? What is your favorite or least favorite part of the novel?