To my mind Persuasion is the most perfect novel. At just over 250 pages it can be read over a weekend but the haunting melancholy feel haunts you for days afterwards. It is a happy novel, too. It is about second chances and mistakes rectified.
Austen described Anne Elliot as 'almost too good for me' and Anne is indeed good, but without the annoying passivity of Fanny Price from Mansfield Park. Anne is older, wiser and damaged by the error of judgement she made eight years before in refusing to marry Captain Wentworth. My favourite scene from Persuasion is when Anne is walking on the Cobb at Lyme and a stranger turns to admire her regained beauty (the stranger, of course, turns out to be Mr Elliot).
Can you imagine any of Austen's heroes wearing a hooped petticoat for a joke?! Clarence Hervey does in Belinda in order to settle a bet with the gloriously bitchy Lady Delacour and it is the interplay between these two which make the novel so enjoyable.
Belinda Portman, beautiful, young, kind-hearted and naive is sent by her Aunt Stanhope (nicknamed 'catchmaker matchmaker') to stay with Lady Delacour in London with a view to landing a wealthy husband. Lady Delacour 'one of the most dissipated women in London' is vain, spendthrift, dazzling and witty in public and languid, petulant and weary in private. She is also hiding a breast wound she received in a duel which she believes will kill her.
One would think that under the guidance of Lady Delacour, Belinda would become hopelessly lost, but in fact the opposite is true. Though naive, Belinda is not short of common sense and she is attracted to a peaceable domesticity rather than the unhinged life of Lady Delacour. The two women eventually become close and loyal friends and Belinda falls in love with the charming Clarence Hervey.
I really want to re-read another Austen novel, now - so much for making plans! Sense and Sensibility I think.