It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Janeite who has read through all of Austen’s work must be in search more reading material.
It’s hard when you’ve read through all of Austen’s books multiple times (even the fragments!) and are still left wanting more. You want something with that distinct Austen charm, but you also want something new. Unfortunately, I can’t materialize a previously undiscovered Austen novel out of thin air, but perhaps I can provide the next best thing: some books that have a similar feel. These are eight books that I think Austen fans might enjoy.
Books that Inspired Austen
The first place you may want to turn for a book with an Austen-esque feel are the books that inspired Austen herself. Frances Burney was one of her favorite novelists, and her Evelina explores many of the same subjects Austen would later write about. Evelina is an epistolary novel following a young woman’s introduction to London society. Filled with social satire, romance, and a plethora of balls, it’s a novel any Austen fan is guaranteed to enjoy.
If you’re a Northanger Abbey fan (and really, it deserves far more attention than it gets), you need look no further than Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. A tale of terror detailing Emily St. Aubuert’s time in the villainous Count Montoni’s medieval castle, this book will introduce you to every trope of the Gothic genre. It will give you new insight into what Austen is satirizing in Northanger Abbey and, like Catherine, you will be wondering through the whole book what is behind the curtain.
19th Century Romances
The later half of the 19th century has just as many wonderful woman-written romances as the first. I always say that Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South would be the result if Jane Austen and Charles Dickens collaborated on a book. When Margaret Hale moves to Milton, she is confronted with the effects of the Industrial Revolution: mills with poor conditions, a working class suffering from poverty and illness, and strikes that turn violent. She must also face Mr. Thornton, a mill owner who is certainly equal in appeal to Mr. Darcy.
Fans of sister focused stories like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility will enjoy Amy Levy’s The Romance of a Shop. When their father’s death leaves them in poverty, the four Lorimer sisters decide to follow in his footsteps and open a photography shop. The book explores the late 19th century concept of “the New Woman” and details the romances these ladies encounter along their path as business owners.
Chick Lit Paying Homage to Austen
Thankfully, with Austen’s incredible popularity remaining intact through the centuries, there are plenty of modern romance books that make reference to her and try to capture the feel of her novels. Polly Shulman’s Enthusiasm is a young adult contemporary about a girl who finds herself swept up in minuets and the search for Mr. Darcy when her best friend becomes obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. Full of miscommunications, comedy, and romance, Enthusiasm is a feel-good, fluffy read perfect for reminding you of when you first discovered Austen at a young age.
On the more adult side is Shannon Hale’s Austenland, the story of Jane Hayes, who believes she must cure herself of her Mr. Darcy obsession in order to have a fulfilling life. To do this, she goes a three week trip to Pembroke Park, a resort that allows women to dress up in empire waist gowns, flirt with Regency gentlemen, and live out all their Jane Austen dreams. Bringing in the most delicious aspects of Austen’s novels and combining them with modern sensibilities, it’s a enjoyable read that may leave you wish Pembroke Park were real (I’d certainly pay good money to go there).
If you’re looking for something with less realism that still has the Austen feel, look no further than Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. During the Napoleonic Wars, two magicians rise up in England, where magic hasn’t been seen in a long time. Written in the style of of a 19th-century novel, Clarke weaves together the social comedy of Austen with some truly dark and disturbing magic.
If Austen had been a fantasy writer, the result may look something like Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw. When Bon Agornin dies, his wealthy and unpleasant son-in-law deprives his youngest three children of a large portion of their rightful inheritance. One sister is forced to live with dreadful relatives while the other falls in love with the man far above her station, and the brother decides to open a court case to claim what is rightfully theirs. The twist? They are all dragons. Walton expertly takes pieces of 19th-century society and etiquette and turns them into something entirely new in dragon culture.