Comforting Books Needed
December 16, 2021 3:46 PM   Subscribe

Jane Austen did not write enough books. I'd like more in the vein of comedy of manners. Doesn't have to be set in any particular place or period. Cozy, but not a cozy mystery.
posted by freshwater to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (50 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books are the standard recommendation here, I believe.
posted by praemunire at 3:51 PM on December 16, 2021 [13 favorites]

If you like upper-middle-class England, Antony Powell's 'Dance To The Music Of Time' is to me as hilarious and as profound as the best Austin.
posted by wattle at 4:06 PM on December 16, 2021 [4 favorites]

J.G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur has some of that feel I think.
posted by saladin at 4:11 PM on December 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

try some Barbara Pym
posted by theora55 at 4:12 PM on December 16, 2021 [12 favorites]

Whistling Season by Ivan Doig is one I read to a parent, not really comedy of errors. Last read in this area was Good Omens, which is Pratchett, and has fire & demons, which might not fit.

James Corden in One Man, Two Guv’ners via PBS Masterpiece Theater is a romp, even though it’s not a read.
posted by childofTethys at 4:43 PM on December 16, 2021

I have long thought Alison Lurie to be something of a contemporary Jane Austen.
posted by orange swan at 4:48 PM on December 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Edith Wharton, who did in fact write a LOT of books. Maybe less comedy, but definitely of manners.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 5:12 PM on December 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

I've always thought the first 5 or so books of Patrick O'Brian's 'Master and Commander' series were a mannered comedy, but with canons.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:18 PM on December 16, 2021 [7 favorites]

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
posted by Hypatia at 5:19 PM on December 16, 2021 [11 favorites]

Muriel Spark, not comfy but wonderful
posted by Ideefixe at 5:22 PM on December 16, 2021

Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men In a Boat, to be followed by Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog. (The latter technically involves a mystery, but not in the usual murdery sense.)
posted by Drastic at 5:33 PM on December 16, 2021 [12 favorites]

Give Aldous Huxley's Crome Yellow a try, and maybe follow up with Amis' Lucky Jim which feels almost like a next generation novel in a family saga.

I loved Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mame, too.

Blithe Spirits, by Noel Coward is a play but it's too wonderful to let that get in your way, especially since there are great audio versions floating around. It’s an extremely funny sendup of Spiritualism that somehow avoids being an attack.
posted by jamjam at 5:43 PM on December 16, 2021

Jude Morgan has written some delightful comedies that even are Regencies - Indiscretion, frex.

Some of Anthony Trollope might satisfy. The Struggles of Brown, Jones and Robinson perhaps.
posted by clew at 5:46 PM on December 16, 2021

Vanity Fair
posted by Dolley at 5:49 PM on December 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward.
posted by jamjam at 5:53 PM on December 16, 2021

Oscar Wilde
GB Shaw
EM Forster
Therese Anne Fowler
TJ Klune
Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians series

Seconding Cold Comfort Farm, rare example of when the movie is as good as (maybe better than) the book.
posted by basalganglia at 6:00 PM on December 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Elizabeth Gaskell! Start with Cranford (comedy of manners with old lady hijinks).

EM Forster writes some great courtship novels. Howards End is my absolute favorite.

As far as contemporary novels go, I quite liked Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It's more of a satire, but the characters were quite winning.
posted by toastedcheese at 6:00 PM on December 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Crazy Rich Asians had some of this feeling. The first one more than the sequels.
posted by lunasol at 6:10 PM on December 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

I haven't read them in years but Georgette Heyer"s regency novels popped into my head
posted by BoscosMom at 6:30 PM on December 16, 2021 [7 favorites]

I'm pretty sure that's not a complete list now that I look at it.
Heyer also wrote mysteries but her regency books are not.
posted by BoscosMom at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2021

If fantasy-of-manners is in scope, I'd suggest Sorcery and Cecelia; or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot. The sequel, sadly, isn't as good.
posted by humbug at 6:53 PM on December 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Try Angela Thirkell. Marling Hall is hilarious.

Seconding Barbara Pam. Also Nancy Mitford can be pretty funny.
posted by gt2 at 7:03 PM on December 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

Definitely Nancy Mitford. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are her best.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:10 PM on December 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding Wodehouse and Wilde. Also, Dickens. And, if later US stuff is of interest, John Cheever.
posted by eotvos at 8:57 PM on December 16, 2021

+ Elizabeth Gaskell! Cranford is one of the coziest books I know.
+ Two Men in a Boat
Lucia and Mapp series by EF Benson
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
For something outside of the comedy of manners, The Wind in the Willows is a book I come back to often when I need something comfy to read. I also love the audiobook read by Ralph Cosham.
posted by microscopiclifeform at 9:21 PM on December 16, 2021

Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign is an homage to Austen, Sayers, Charlotte Bronte and Heyer - dedicated to them. It is 12th in the series, though it was only the second I read. You could read it without reading the others; you would be slightly baffled, but probably cheerily so.

Seconding Nancy Mitford, probably start with the first of her trilogy, The Pursuit of Love, though she's sadder than Austen.

Have heard good things about The Other Bennet Sister, which I'm hoping to read over Christmas.

I think some of Persephone Books might work for you, though they tend to skew bleaker. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is enjoyable.

The Provincial Lady is good.

Rose Macaulay, maybe Told by an Idiot.

Stella Gibbons, Nightingale Wood.

DE Stevenson, maybe, though I wouldn't say she's witty if that's what you're after. Green Money for instance.

You might find some ideas at Furrowed Middlebrow and maybe also Reading 1900-1950.
posted by paduasoy at 1:41 AM on December 17, 2021

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. A funny, wry, witty story about 4 very different British women going on holiday to a romantic Italian castle. Written in 1922.
posted by Zumbador at 3:32 AM on December 17, 2021 [5 favorites]

If you would like a completely whacko comedy of manners set in an alternative history/spec fic world of an enduring non-racist (??!!) British Empire, set in Toronto complete with in-jokes, centring a queer relationship, try That Inevitable Victorian Thing.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:13 AM on December 17, 2021

I like the six Mountjoy books for this. They're 1990s-written English comedies of manners, originally brought out as by Elizabeth Pewsey and subsequently reissued under the name Elizabeth Aston. In order:

1. Children of Chance
2. Divine Comedy, also published as The World, the Flesh & the Bishop
3. Unholy Harmonies
4. Volcanic Airs
5. Unaccustomed Spirits
6. Brotherly Love

The author wrote under three names in total, starting out as Elizabeth Pewsey, then moving on to write Austen sequels as Elizabeth Aston and vintage mysteries as Elizabeth Edmondson.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:34 AM on December 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

I think you would enjoy the Thrush Green series by pseudonymous British author Miss Read.
posted by Morpeth at 5:05 AM on December 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, another good mid-twentieth century British author of literary fiction is the largely forgotten Dorothy Whipple. I recommend Because of the Lockwoods, although it's as much Dickens as it is Austen.
posted by Morpeth at 5:10 AM on December 17, 2021

I love Jane Austen, Barbara Pym, The Remains of the Day, Anthony Trollope, and Alison Lurie, and I also love and have not seen mentioned here yet Anne Tyler.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:00 AM on December 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with many on this list, particularly P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series, but Blandings Castle series may also fit as well.

I'd add David Lodge books, which are more modern and often set in academic environments. A good mix of humor, social etiquette gone wrong, mis-understanding, while mixed with calm and comforting pace and settings.
posted by vanderwal at 6:27 AM on December 17, 2021

Not to be That Bitch but I am noticing that "cozy" here seems to stand in for "novels about whiteness" - for me too, Barbara Pym and Nancy Mitford sprang immediately to mind, even though the last time I re-read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate what struck me was their underlying nastiness. I didn't initially chime in with any recommendations because I was having trouble thinking of a "cozy" read by a non-white author, or an author who openly criticizes wealth and privilege. While I love P.G. Wodehouse and will keep re-reading Mitford, gentle in-group satires of beauty, wealth, and privilege don't really cut it for me anymore.

I've never read Georgette Heyer because her deep anti-semitism has come up before here on Ask, and as a Jewish person I am tired of reading past it (yes, I love Dorothy Sayers, but she's gotten tougher as the years pass.)

What is a deeply satisfying read, an energizing read, that does not ask us to find sociopaths cute? Austen is actually much better than most of these people.

The Bujold recommendation is pretty good, I think. What about Ursula Le Guin? Some of her books are discomforting, but they generally ask us to believe that joy and change are possible.

Apologies, I know this is not the enthusiastic set of recommendations that make Ask so much fun. But I've been interrogating my own reading habits the last few years and would like to ask us all to recognize that the cozy country-house book is not a neutral choice.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:36 AM on December 17, 2021 [10 favorites]

Ishuguru isn't white and the whole thing The Remains of the Day exists to do is to break your heart with its slow, subtle, genius reveal of the human suffering and anguish and lifewaste that wealth and privilege cause.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:46 AM on December 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I loved Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mame, too.

I too remembered Auntie Mame fondly from tween-hood, and revisited it a couple of years ago. I had not recalled that it contains racist words and concepts. I didn't finish it a second time.
posted by CheeseLouise at 10:56 AM on December 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a great book but incredibly sad.
posted by M. at 12:29 PM on December 17, 2021

Also, The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency is my go-to comfort read.
posted by M. at 12:40 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I can see le Guin as cozy-but-not-co-opted, but not most of Bujold. Early in the Vorkosigan series the wish-fulfilment character says "It's easy for democrats to move to aristocracies as long as they get to be the aristocrats" and I hoped it was a meant joke, and then I hoped it was a foreshadowing, but no, the arc of the novels is totally okay with that. Literally criminal aristocracies? Great, as long as they're sexy! There's an gay space socialism governance system, but there are very few stories set in it, though the aristocrats visit it for medical treatment and sex tours.

"but how about cozy but not aristocrats or colonizers" is an excellent request, so I went and looked at my traditional-stories-of-the-world books for a recommendation but they are depressingly not cozy.
posted by clew at 1:00 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Georgette Heyer, hands down. She is the next best thing to Jane Austen. The romances, not the mysteries.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:36 PM on December 17, 2021

A really good forward in some edition of some Jane Austen book posited that three of Austen's six novels were fundamentally about movement and personal change (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey) and three were about "blooming where you're planted" and stagnation (Emma, Persuasion, Mansfield Park). Which brings me to A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth. Seth's many characters are fascinating and diverse, but essentially sympathetic and good -- characters you want to spend time with, and get to know. Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery, Austen would quit such odious subjects as soon as she could, and that's what I imagine you mean when you ask for comforting comedies of manners -- if so, you cannot do better than A Suitable Boy. Now, if you read it, you'll have to tell me whether it best fits with active Austen or passive Austen, because there is some debate on that point. There's a terrific BBC TV miniseries too.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 5:38 PM on December 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

Seconding David Lodge.

Noel Coward also wrote short stories.
posted by wittgenstein at 6:10 PM on December 17, 2021

Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado.

I also have a lot of affection for Elizabeth Taylor (novelist), especially Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, but that may not be as entirely uplifting as you're looking for.
posted by thivaia at 7:19 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Definitely Trollope! His two big series—the Palliser and Bersetshire novels—are incredibly long and very... Nice, even when they aren't always perfectly happy. As a nonstop Austen rereader, strongly recommend them.
posted by Polycarp at 9:30 PM on December 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

Must say The Diary of A Provincial Lady by EM Delafield again, echoing paduasoy's mention upthread.

Here is a fun project! Reread Pride and Prejudice. Read The Diary of A Provincial Lady. Reread (or read for first time) Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding , and then say "Ohhhhh, I see what Helen Fielding was doing!"
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 4:42 AM on December 18, 2021

Laurie Colwin's got you covered.
posted by BibiRose at 12:36 PM on December 18, 2021

Rosamunde Pilcher wrote many books where "when the going gets tough, the tough make tea." I haven't read anything of hers in years but I loved them back when.
posted by andreap at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2021

Some further thoughts following up my earlier answer. Lawn Beaver, thank you for the reminder about diversity and criticism of privilege. clew, I agree that Bujold is not cosy. I guess I was aiming for the comedy of manners side of the spec rather than cosy. I guess some CoM is implicitly critical of patriarchical society (Mitford for instance - which is part of what makes that less cosy and more bleak). Other books which are sometimes described as CoM can buy in to the social set-up, like the rather vile Mapp and Lucia novels.

Going back to the question - I wonder whether "fantasy of manners" is a useful search term, as in this Book Riot list. Some of the writers there are from Black and Minority Ethnic groups. I'm not sure that there is anything listed that I would definitely identify as cosy, but I'm not sure I find Austen cosy either, so it may be worth the OP having a look.
posted by paduasoy at 2:34 PM on December 19, 2021

Zen Cho!
posted by clew at 7:55 PM on December 19, 2021

For a comedy of manners set in 1950s US academia, Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution.
posted by abakua at 10:36 AM on December 20, 2021

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