See also Adelle Waldman’s essay about what she’s learned from reading all of Austen’s books again and again.
Jane Austen’s Novels, From Best to Worst
Jane Austen’s 10 Most Devastating Character Assessments
Few writers equal Austen in her ability to sum up a character in a pithy sentence or two. Below are some of her most devastating assessments.
10. John Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
“He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold-hearted and rather selfish is to be ill-disposed.”
9. Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park
“She was a woman who spent her days in sitting nicely dressed on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children, but very indulgent to the latter when it did not put herself to inconvenience.”
8. Sir John and Lady Middleton, Sense and Sensibility
“However dissimilar in temper and outward behavior, they strongly resembled each other in that total want of talent and taste.”
7. Mr. Bingley’s sisters, Pride and Prejudice
“Not deficient in good humor when they pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable where they chose it; but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank; and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves and meanly of others.”
6. Lady Catherine DeBourgh, Pride and Prejudice
“She was a most active magistrate in her own parish, the minutest concerns were carried to her … and whenever the cottagers were disposed to be quarrelsome, discontented or too poor, she sallied forth into the village to settle their differences, silence their complaints, and scold them into harmony and plenty.”
5. Margaret Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility
“Margaret, the other sister, was a well-disposed girl; but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne’s romance, without having much of her sense, she did not at thirteen bid fair to equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.”
4. Mrs. Elton, Emma
“Self-important, presuming, familiar, ignorant and ill-bred. She had a little beauty and a little accomplishment, but so little judgment that she thought herself coming with superior knowledge of the world, to enliven and improve a country neighborhood.”
3. Emma Woodhouse, Emma
“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence. ... The real evils of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself.”
2. Mr. Collins, Pride and Prejudice
“Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society. … The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner, but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head.”
1. Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
“She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.”
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