Readers have been turning to the comfort of Jane Austen for decades. During the World Wars, Austen sales spiked as soldiers and civilians sought solace in simpler, less terrifying times. Almost a century later and in the midst of uncertainty, readers voted Pride and Prejudice as the most comforting read for The Strand Bookstore’s first Stranded Book Club pick.
For me, the familiarity of Austen’s wit and wisdom is the epitome of comfort reading. Her settings are charming and quaint; her heroines are strong and steady. Reading about women who face challenges and overcome them with kindness and determination is ever so satisfying these days.
Austen novels soothe me during stressful times, and also lend themselves well to rereading again and again. Over the last few years, it’s become my habit to pick up a Jane Austen novel after releasing the Summer Reading Guide (sign up here to receive it in your inbox on May 14th) . When I crave a classic after reading tons of new releases, Austen is my go-to. I love the pleasing familiarity of her novels, but with every reread, I always notice something new.
But what’s a girl to do when she’s run out of Austen novels to devour? Don’t worry. There are plenty more absorbing classics with heroines I can root for. Today I’m sharing 10 classic books to read after finishing your latest Austen novel.
These are stories of sisterhood, friendship, and community. The settings are cozy, dreamy, and easy to get lost in. Some are short enough to read in a day, and others are tomes worth reading over the next few months. Whatever your reading style, if you love Austen, you’ll likely enjoy one of these books next.
You simply can’t beat a book that turns on a stolen kiss in the Italian countryside. Read this slim novel about the awakening of sheltered Englishwoman Lucy Honeychurch (who is definitely in the running for Most Adorable Name in Literature) at the hands of an Englishman with little regard for convention, all while her uptight aunt is doing her darnedest to keep Lucy "proper" in society's eyes. (It's worth saying: the movie version is FANTASTIC.) More info →
If you find comfort in Austen's depictions of everyday life, turn to George Eliot next. Eliot’s hefty masterpiece combines her "study of provincial life" with a close look at several young couples who fall (or think they fall) in love. Who will find lasting happiness, and who won't, and why? By focusing on the narrow disappointments and particular joys of this small community, Eliot cuts to the heart of human nature. A novel about love, happiness, and second chances. I personally loved the audiobook version narrated by Juliet Stevenson. More info →
I'll bet you weren’t assigned this breezy Cinderella-ish story set in 1930s Britain back in English class. When a placement agency sends unemployed middle-aged governess Miss Pettigrew to the wrong address, she spends the best day of her life with a glamorous nightclub singer, extricating her hour by hour from one scrape after another. Light, charming and utterly delightful (though FYI, this was first published in 1938 and some conversations and attitudes feel quite dated to modern ears). If you love Austen's wit and need some more humor in your reading life, pick up this classic next. More info →
If you've already spent several rereads with the Bennett sisters, it might be time to hang out with the March sisters next. Alcott's 1869 novel about New England sisters growing up in the Civil War Era is an overwhelming crowd favorite. I only recently learned that Alcott herself didn't want to write Little Women: when a publisher asked her to write a book for girls, she put aside the thrillers she'd been writing and wrote about the only girls she knew— her sisters. The book's unexpected success changed her life and literary career. This backstory is reflected in the new 2019 film version, which would make a great book companion for some comfort-watching. More info →
Full of reflection and romance, this coming-of-age novel definitely belongs on any Austen-lover's shelf. 17-year-old Cassandra is a remarkable narrator, who captures her eccentric family’s daily life—in their ramshackle old English castle—in her diary. The three volumes which comprise this book are full of her funny and poignant stories. Completely charming and replete with love, magic, writer's block, and bear costumes. More info →
This lesser known L.M. Montgomery novel is, in my opinion, a highly underrated classic. Valancy Stirling is a certified spinster; she's 29, unmarried, and living with her overbearing family. She finds her escape in books, dreaming of The Blue Castle, a setting in one of her favorite novels by John Foster. Valancy struggles to speak her mind, until some shocking news causes her to reevaluate everything. She stands up to her family, goes after her dreams, and truly blossoms. Her romantic journey, coupled with gorgeous descriptions of the Canadian setting, make this the perfect classic to read for your own escape. More info →
This cozy classic centers around an English country town and its residents, exploring everything from the mundane to the surprising. There's not much plot here, just the simple adventures of a group of women, their friendships, gossip, and witty observations. It's a short book, perfect for reading with a cup of afternoon tea. Those who love Austen's biting wit and social commentary will almost certainly enjoy Gaskell as well. More info →
This endearing classic begins when one woman reads an advertisement for a small tumble-down medieval castle addressed to “Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.” She is suddenly struck by desire on this dreary, dripping day and finds a partner-in-travel to get away for a month. The two friends seek out two strangers to make a party of four women—one young, one old, two somewhere in the middle. As they travel to the Italian castle and spend the month finding out what they have in common, they find they are all unhappy with the life they find themselves leading. It's no spoiler to tell you: they come into their own. More info →
A must-read for bibliophiles, and you'll feel compelled to discuss the heartwarming way books bring people together with all your book-loving buddies. This is the story of the twenty-year relationship between a New York writer and a gentlemanly London bookseller, as told through their correspondence. The epistolary nature of this classic is reminiscent of Austen's time. Perfect for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. More info →
This sweeping novel set in Britain between the world wars chronicles the Flyte family’s unraveling—along with the rest of Britain’s aristocracy—as viewed through the wistful eyes of lieutenant Charles Ryder. It's haunting and melancholy, wistful and reverent. Themes of love, loss, and grace always capture my attention—I'm entranced by the family and the history and simply adore this book. Recommended reading for Downton Abbey fans. More info →