For the Janeite who ran out of Austen novels

For the Janeite who ran out of Austen novels

Today’s guest post is by Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas. Please welcome her to MMD! 

There’s a fateful day that comes to every reader who begins Miss Austen’s works: the day you run out of Jane Austen novels.

Whether it’s Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, or Mansfield Park, coming to the end of Austen’s works is a sad experience if you’ve fallen in love with her fascinating heroines, masterful plots, and witty style. But there’s hope! I recently was introduced to an author who might console the downcast Janeite: Elizabeth Gaskell.

Called “Mrs. Gaskell” by her Victorian contemporaries, Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels are full of wit, romance, and lovable communities. And like Austen, Gaskell illuminates the subtleties of her character’s virtues and flaws so that you know them inside and out. What’s not to love?

But the two authors are not literary twins. Gaskell includes scenes in which only male characters are present–something Austen only attempts once briefly in Mansfield Park. I’ve always loved that Austen avoids men-only dialogue because it adds so much mystery (what is Mr. Darcy thinking about?!), but it’s fun to have a window into Gaskell’s leading men’s minds and conversation. Gaskell also includes more fleshed-out characters from the lower classes than Austen does and includes themes about social causes.

Allow me to introduce you to some of Mrs. Gaskell’s works. (A few of her novels have been adapted to film in recent years, so it’s a great time to read her novels and then treat yourself to a great miniseries!)

North and South

This would be the Pride & Prejudice of Gaskell’s novels: Margaret Hale, a strong, opinionated young woman from the South of England, misjudges John Thornton, a factory owner in the North, due to differences of temperament and local culture. The 2004 miniseries adaption is also great and Richard Armitage who plays Thornton is totally swoon-worthy.

Cranford

More like vignettes of small town life than a full-fledged novel, Cranford is full of the most endearing characters. But I have to admit that I actually like the miniseries more than the book (don’t tar and feather me!). Anything with Judi Dench and Michael Gambon has to be good, right?

Wives and Daughters

This is by far my favorite of Gaskell’s. The heroine, Molly Gibson, is as vibrant and lovable as any of Austen’s heroines (and perhaps more than some!). There’s plenty of mystery, romance, and unforgettable characters. But beware! Gaskell died before she could write the very end, although she did tell someone what she had in mind. In order to have some closure, be sure to have the fantastic film on hand. (It’s adapted by Andrew Davies who wrote the screenplay for the epic Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice and many of the other Austen films!)

If you’re pining for a good read after exhausting all of Austen’s books, give Gaskell a try. (Most of the films are on Netflix, or stream for free with Amazon Prime. If you’re not a member, start a free trial here.) And if you just can’t bear to leave the world of Austen behind, try out Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, author of Children of Men. It’s a whodunnit involving the characters of P&P and Austen fans either love it or hate it. Happy reading, Janeites!

Do you have any book (or film!) recommendations for Austen aficionados? 

(Note: all of the Austen and Gaskell ebooks mentioned above are available for free right now on Amazon.)

Haley Stewart is a bookish Catholic wife and mama of three littles  living in the deep south on her little urban homestead. When she gets a moment to herself she loves to read Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, L.M. Montgomery, or Flannery O’Connor with a cup of coffee in hand. Haley muses about cultivating a Catholic family through literature, liturgical living, and urban homesteading at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas

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80 comments

  1. Tim says:

    Good intro to Gaskell, Haley. On reading all of Austen, have you gone through all her juvenalia? Some of her early writings are hilarious like Love & Freindship [sic] and HIstory of England, while Lady Susan is deliciously wicked and funny.

    Cheers,
    Tim

  2. Sarah R says:

    I tend to flip between Jane and Charlotte Bronte. I heard at a JASNA meeting once that Jane Eyre was Charlotte’s attempt at a ‘real’ version of Mansfield Park, as she apparently hated the original.

    I haven’t read Mrs. Gaskell yet, but I’ve seen some of the adaptations, and they are excellent! Made me fall completely in love with Richard Armitage!

    • Tim says:

      Sarah, Charlotte Bronte’s opinion of JA’s writing is nonsense anyway so I can see why she thought MP needed improvement. In fact, the very fact she thought it needed improvement is an indication that Bronte’s taste in literature was what really needed improvement!

      • I really do love Jane Eyre and Anne Bronte’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall, although Emily B’s Wuthering Heights isn’t really a favorite (but worth a read!). But I’m just baffled whenever I think about Charlotte’s opinion of Jane Austen. Supposedly, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once said he didn’t trust anyone who doesn’t like Jane Austen and I tend to agree, so I just try to forget Charlotte’s opinion on Miss Austen because Jane Eyre is soooo good!

      • Jeannie says:

        I actually think CB’s view makes a lot of sense, given her background and personality. CB and her siblings grew up devouring and creating romantic fantasy worlds; CB herself lived through her emotions and wrote when the passion overcame her. And some of her writer friends who thought her more hot-blooded scenes in Jane Eyre were too melodramatic suggested she be more like JA — cooler, more reserved. I can imagine that really hurt a sensitive writer like CB to be told, “Be more like this famous writer, not like yourself” — especially by men. So I think she misjudged JA badly, which is unfortunate, but in a way I can understand it.

  3. Janine says:

    Lovers of Austen will like the Elizabeth Goudge novels. Lovely lovely stories, especially the Eliot family series: The bird in the Tree, Pilgrim’s Inn, and the Heart of the Family. I loved them so much I bought copies, and I’m in the down-sizing phase of my life, not the collecting phase!

    Another great saga is Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, another treat if you haven’t come across it.

  4. I love Mrs. Gaskell! I especially love the North and South miniseries on Netflix. It rips my guts out every time (in a good way. I guess.) I also loved Cranford and Wives and Daughters. Downton Abbey fans will love all of those series because there are several of the same actors (Mr. Bates in North and South and Mr. Carson in Cranford) who play prominent roles. Good list!

  5. Anna says:

    I love Elizabeth Gaskell’s books. I always tell people that North and South is where Jane Austen’s love story meets Charles Dickens’ social consciousness. It’s my favorite of her books, although I do love Wives and Daughters too. An interesting sub-note: In reading a biography of Beatrix Potter I found that her family was friends with the Gaskells and her grandfather or great-grandfather (can’t remember) had a life story very similar to that of Mr. Thornton in North and South. I haven’t explored it further, but I assume it’s not a coincidence.

  6. Kendra says:

    I’ve always felt like George Elliot is like Jane Austen’s kinda downer older sister. I LOVE all the Jane Austen books, but they’re all “and they all got married and lived happily ever after, the end.” Middlemarch is like the realist sequel to a Jane Austen book where we get to see how all the marriages actually turn out.

    I’m a big fan of North and South!

    • Victoria says:

      Elliot is TOTALLY Austen’s downer older sister! Wish I would have come up with that myself 😉

      And I completely agree with you about Gaskell being a wonderful transition for Austen fans. She’s just sublime!

      • Kendra says:

        You should read Middlemarch. I’ve read some of her other books, but not recently. Middlemarch is brilliant and complex and true, but like other great literature, it’s also kind of a bummer.

        That’s why I like to re-read Austen after I read Elliot or any of the Brontes, and why I have to read everything Austen ever wrote every time I read Flannery O’Conner. Just to restore my sunny disposition and my faith that anything that seems like the end of the world is probably just a big misunderstanding.

        • Anne says:

          I’ve never heard Middlemarch. I think I was traumatized by half an hour of an 80s tv adaptation my mom made me watch when I was too young to care. Thanks for the encouragement to get to it!

          • Tim says:

            I tried reading Middlemarch but gave up after about 50 pages. I found it hard to keep turning the pages when I didn’t care even the slightest what happened next to any of the characters.

  7. Erica says:

    Funny, just a couple days ago I was trying to figure out a light read, and decided I should give Cranford a try. (Naturally, I shall watch the miniseries too!)

    On the other hand, you have my sister-in-law, who refuses to read Mansfield Park. She says she wants to wait until she’s near the end of her life, and then she can say, “Oh wait! I still have an Austen novel I can read!”

  8. Anne-Marie says:

    Middlemarch, as I once mentioned to you, consoles me with its village life from the time just before (and during) the railroad comes. Eliot gets to be more overt with her social commentary, since she’s technically writing historical fiction, but after learning to read Austen through a feminist lens, I really can’t stop seeing social commentary everywhere I look in her novels.

    I couldn’t get through Cranford. And if you need or know anyone who needs copies of Gaskell or other “Domestic Fiction” authors, I have hardly-used copies for the price of postage. Wives and Daughters was the beginning and end of my interest in this particular genre…

    I’m sorry for typing this comment like a pretentious grad student! My Gaskell class coincidentally occurred during a particularly miserable semester… just before I quit! But oh, do I love W&D!

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  10. EricaM says:

    These are all on my massive reading list. Luckily a lot of them can be checked out through OverDrive so I don’t have to worry about lugging our huge library copies around. XD

    Also, there are some really good sequels to Jane Austen’s books. My favorites thus far are the “Visit to Highbury” books by Joan Austen-Leigh, one of Jane’s descendants. (However, avoid anything by Emma Tennant if you value your sanity.)

  11. Zeitgeist!
    We just started listening to/reading “North and South” on the CraftLit podcast. It uses an audiobooks-with-benefits format and is free. The book starts at episode 331 (and we also did “Pride and Prejudice” and “Persuasion” previously.

  12. I read North and South last summer and loved it, thinking often of it long after I’d read the last page. And after watching the BBC adaptation (which I loved) I was intrigued that they ditched all the nuanced spirituality of the book in favor of a more simplistic theme that relied on the personality differences of the 2 protagonists. The book shows much more faith throughout, expressed at all different social levels, and the interpretations of the character’s motivations & actions can often be pinned to how they use their faith to interpret the world.

    I’ve seen this in a lot of BBC adaptations — remember Sense and Sensibility (the Emma Thompson version), where Willoughby talks to Elinor about Marianne, who is deathly ill? In the book he talks about his marriage to his rich wife almost as hell, and as something he fittingly deserves, as a judgment (similar to THE final judgment) on his actions and base motivations. And it’s the feeling of judgment on him that gives us some catharsis. Sadly, In the screenplay he’s written more as the stupid sad ex-boyfriend mourning the one that got away. Remorseful, but only on the most superficial level. No catharsis for viewers, no sense of true judgment on his actions, just fleeting sentimentality.

    Anyway, for those who have only seen the adaptation of North & South, the book adds much more. 🙂

    • Liz says:

      Melissa, you’re right. The religious/spiritual aspects of these stories, that would have been very close to the characters’ hearts, are often stripped for the modern audience who can’t imagine basing life’s major decisions on theological convictions. It’s great to live in a less rigid world in many ways, and the theological component of social justice is really interesting in North and South (the union conflicts in it are still very pertinent), but sometimes I want to reach into the pages and tell characters that they don’t have to fight about that, because we’ll figure it all out in a couple centuries. I find it especially hard to look further back to all the killing done around the time of the Reformation. I think, ‘Come on, Lady Jane! Just tell Queen Mary that you’ll be Catholic for a couple years and keep your head!’

  13. Liz says:

    I loved the North and South miniseries, and then listened to the audiobook, which is excellent. Mr. Thornton and his scowl are so delightful!

    I also recommend Anthony Trollope for fans of 19th Century fiction. I started with the “The Way We Live Now” miniseries, and followed it up with the audiobook. It has such detailed descriptions of daily life, and shows behind-the-scenes of other fiction (mostly people scrambling to pay bills and keep up with the joneses). It takes place several decades after the Austin novels, and really it’s about how much life has quickened and changed, but the characters are very interesting. (AND the miniseries has Matthew Macfayden (Hollywood’s Mr. Darcy) as a self-centered snotty baronet that is brilliantly acted! As much as he’s a good Darcy, he does spoiled brat even better!)

    Finally, I have to say for Austen fan fiction, my hands-down favorite is the Pamela Aidan 3-book series of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman. That series just makes me happy. Books one and three follow P&P exactly from Mr. Darcy’s point of view, and book two is what happens to Mr. Darcy after the Netherfield ball and before he runs into Elizabeth at Rosings. Book three is my favorite. Sooo much fun. Ann–You should do a blog post compiling all the great suggestions in the comments section! Your community rocks!

  14. Denisa Dellinger says:

    I pinned this webpage and decided to check this site out. I find it quite good. Did you know that Gaskell wrote other books? Ruth and Mary Barton were books ended quite sadly. But they are good. She wrote short stories I haven’t read yet, Did you know that the mini series has lots of things that aren’t even in the book but they are indeed in some of her short stories. I began reading historical romance novels when younger and inhaled them. They were full of sex. Then I began reading little regency romance novel and found I liked this period so I thought, “hey, I want to read the real novels of the time” so I began with Jane Austen and I was hooked. I inhaled her novels then I began moving to other authors of the period, Elizabeth Gaskell was one of them. Maria Edgeworth was another, I have read George Elliot and several authors of the 1800s and then several of the 1700s. All you have to do is look them up. If you want to read some American authors, I found Edith Wharton was a cut above everybody else in what she writes. There is plenty of romance in her novels but there is so much more, She writes of the late 1800s and early 1900s and New York society. She wrote what she knew. She was big friends of Henry James, an American who lived in England, And girls… His novels will knock you for a loop. There is romance but he writes sort of psychological themes. He gets into the nitty gritty of what goes on in the mind and motivations of his characters. But still, I can’t help but go to Jane and her friends who write primarily women’s themes and the simple life of a country village. I will give you one author who never disappoints as far as regency romance goes. Her name is BARBARA HAZZARD. I think she is dead now, but she has written all kinds of little romance novels that are very smartly written. You can find her in any used bookstore. She has written series and first person narratives which is what I like. Pick her up and you won’t put her down. I think I have about all of her books and yearn for more. Again, great blog.

  15. Tasha says:

    Georgette Heyer is also fabulous if you’re looking for period romances! She’s very accurate to the time period and very witty and her love stories are…. lovely!

  16. MissPeet says:

    Yes, Elizabeth Gaskell is fantastic! She is like the perfect cross between Austen and Dickens – the best of both worlds. I just wish she had written more than 6 books 😢 Woe to the poor soul who not only finds themselves out of new Austen books to read, but also Gaskell. Or film adaptations for that matter…

  17. Mary says:

    GREAT post! I’m very new to classics but I read P&P and N&S. I thought Mr. Darcy would always be the one, but then Mr. Thornton showed up. I really wish there were more romance novels like these two. Clean, smart, witty, capturing the past with so much commentary, and a delightful hero to root for.
    I have Jane Eyre, 2 Heyer books and Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series but I’m afraid I will be disappointed after I finish those and realize there are no other books like them so I haven’t read them yet. If anyone has read anything similar to North and South or Pride and Prejudice, I really, really, would love to know about it! 😀 I love that tension filled, love-hate relationship these two stories had amidst the commentary on social customs back then.

  18. Kim says:

    I am excited to have found your blog. I read my JA novels one a year along with Gaskell’s Cranford each Christmas.

    Georgette Heyer is a favorite and I have over 30 of her books.
    My favorites are Venetia, The Unknown Ajax, and Black Sheep. The last is set in Bath. Also, an excellent nonfiction read is Georgetter Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester.

  19. Sarah oetken says:

    I just finished reading Girls Who Travel by Nicole Trilivas and the novel definitely has characteristics of Darcy and Lizzie. There is pride and prejudice but I didn’t realize this til I read the last chapter. An amazing read

  20. Sara says:

    Emily Eden’s The Semi-Attached Couple and The Semi-Detached House are pretty natural followers of Austen (both in time period written and subject and style!)

  21. Rachael says:

    If you like a little magic with your Austen, Scorer and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermere, The Glamorist Histories (starting with Shades of Milk and Honey) by Mary Robinette Kowalski and Jonathan Strange Strange and Mr.Norrell are pretty fantastic. In the cases of these last two, they also address the Nepoleanic wars and family relationships as well as romantic ones.

  22. Rachael says:

    If you like a little magic with your Austen, Scorer and Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermere, The Glamorist Histories (starting with Shades of Milk and Honey) by Mary Robinette Kowal and Jonathan Strange Strange and Mr.Norrell are pretty fantastic. In the cases of these last two, they also address the Nepoleanic wars and family relationships as well as romantic ones.

  23. Natalie Rosamund says:

    Yes, I listen to the audiobook of Wives and Daughters all the time for comfort (and the film is just perfection). And I just finished listening to Cousin Phyllis, a shorter and lesser-known Gaskell work, worth a listen. And oh the ending of North and South is the best!!
    I love 19th century British literature and art so much that I moved to England and did an MLitt in Victorian Studies and MA in Art History. There I was introduced to two great loves: George Elliot and Thomas Hardy. These are generally more dense and challenging than Austen, but oh so rewarding. Please watch (and read if you can!) the long and delicious Middlemarch! And the recent Far From the Madding Crowd (or older version)! And Under the Greenwood Tree is a cute little romance on YouTube. Look up more treasures by Hardy and Elliot– they are really delicious, and Hardy also has great poetry. If you have never read his poem, written on 31 December 1899, “The Darkling Thrush”, please read it and see the precious hope he finds!

  24. Natalie Rosamund says:

    I forgot to mention The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. Such a great movie was made for it! Watch and be profoundly moved!

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