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A Ranking Of Jane Austen Heroines According To 21st-Century Standards

In many ways, Jane Austen was both of her time and ahead of her time. Here are her best heroines ranked.

Jane Austen lived and wrote in 19th century Britain during a period called the Regency, mostly about young women, their families, the marriage market, and guys being total dicks, but then, somehow, not being as dick-y as we thought. Austen’s legacy is enormous, with a slew of compelling, addictive, and thought-provoking novels that we keep reading to this day. But, how well do Austen’s characters translate to the 21st century? Here’s a list ranking five of her heroines according to contemporary standards.

Elinor Dashwood, Sense and sensibility 

Elinor doesn’t get carried away. She puts the sense in common sense. Also in Sense and Sensibility, the novel im which she appears. Unlike her sister, Marianne, who is all about indulging in impulses, falling in love and passion, and self, Elinor is more like “Would you turn it down like ten notches?” She has a strong sense of responsibility, which is good, and is even willing to take one for the team. When another character informs her she’s engaged to Edward Ferrars (played by Hugh Grant in the movie), she totally keeps her cool instead of going apeshit. Sense… she has it.

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@perioddramas_You’ve probably heard a bunch of things about Elinor, but have you given any thought to her concerns about money? She likens money to happiness, and in spite of what people have told you about material possessions, money matters. I’m not talking about golden-teeth-grills wealth, or a lifetime-supply-of-avocado-toast rich. Elinor is smart enough to know that money will allow you to live comfortably and will, therefore, affect other aspects of your life. Love, for example.

Jane Fairfax, Emma

Jane is the most important self-made woman in any Jane Austen novel (hey, they share a name). Jane is smart, accomplished, and intelligent. Orphaned when she was young, Jane quickly learns she wouldn’t get any handouts. She sings, plays the piano, sews, and is about to start teaching, so she’s pretty much an overachiever, and she’s good at it. 

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@mylifeasjaneiteMaybe too good, as far as Emma is concerned. At least, at first glance. She’s such a catch and doesn’t even know it. Being a self-made person is just about what we’re all about. Nobody likes someone whose doors have been opened thanks to somebody else’s work, which makes Jane so contemporary. Buuuuut... she has poor taste in men. Don’t we all, though?

Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Well, well, well. Who do we have here? If it isn’t little Lizzy Bennet. Many characters in Pride and Prejudice may have a bone to pick with Elizabeth, as she often makes fun of others, whether they’re aware of it or not. This says a lot about her intelligence and also her playful nature, but perhaps more revealing is the following phrase: "I am resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any other person wholly unconnected with me” Oh, damn. She’s gonna do what she want on her own terms. You go, girl.

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@darcyloveriAlso, she mistakes Mr. Darcy’s jerk comments (not a good look) with him being a bad person. But when she finally realizes her mistake she says: "Till this moment I never knew myself," which is the humblest way of saying she’d been gooffing of for so long, she forgot to take a look at herself. True, true.

Emma, Emma

Emma calls the shots in Highsbury. Oh, you got a problem with that? You’re dead in this town. Emma makes sure society plays by her standards. She is a strong independent woman who realizes she doesn’t need love nor a man to be fulfilled. Of course, that's easy to do when you’re wealthy, but that’s precisely her point. When a woman has money of her own, why would she even go through the ordeal all of the other Austen characters go through? That’s as 21st century as it gets. That being said, she does eventually fall in love, but at least she’s not obsessed with the idea of marriage. 

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@16thcenturycourtEven though her heart is in the right place, Emma is sort of snobby, concerned with behaving within her society, but hey, nobody is perfect, and she’s cleaning up, which makes her all the better. Being aware of her flaws and admitting them makes her an even better person. That’s how it works, right? Right?

Anne Elliot, Persuasion

Anne Elliot is quiet and pensive. She doesn’t need all the attention the other characters need. She made one mistake in her life, breaking up with Captain Wentworth, her teenage sweetheart, and she’s regretted it ever since. But she has one very strong quality: not only is she very aware of her mistake, but she also trusts her own judgment more than the good opinion of her family.

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@pembertea

When she and Wentworth finally admit they still have the hives for each other, she’s like, “Wow, wait a second, cowboy. Let’s wait a bit to get it right this time, m'kay?” Sometimes you just got to slow things down, wait a minute, cool off. Then and only then, will you be able to make better choices. Ok, now go. 

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So, there you go. Jane Austen is one of those timeless authors who continue surprising audiences and keeps providing unemployed British actors with steady jobs over the years, with film and TV adaptations of all her novels. Who would you have included on this list?

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If you're a Jane Austen fan, check these out:

5 Books With Female Protagonists You'll Love If You Hate Romances

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Did Jane Austen Show Us The Dark Side Of Love and Desire?

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