Over the weekend I saw the movie The Jane Austen Book Club, which is based on Karen Joy Fowler's novel of the same name. The only man in the book club, which is "all Austen all the time," spends a lot of effort trying to get the woman he's interested in to read Ursula LeGuin. She, like so many misguided people, looks down on science fiction. But eventually she reads The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven and loves both of them (plus him).
Austen and LeGuin are two of my very favorite authors. Their pairing at first seems odd: What could Jane's world have in common with the hermaphroditic, dour society of LeGuin's planet Winter? But I think for me the attraction lies in the fact that both writers are realists, not romantics. Austen knows that her heroines face limited options, that a happy life requires at least a minimal income, and that you can't always get what you want (Marianne Dashwood doesn't get Willoughby; Edmond Bertram doesn't get Mary; Catherine Moreland is disappointed in Isabella's friendship). LeGuin knows that, too. Genly Ai pays a price for his year on Winter (alienation from his own kind, nearly freezing, the death of Estraven) and at the end there's no guarantee that Winter will join the Ekumen or that things will improve for the oppressed citizens of Orgoreyn. Austen is clearly more light-hearted than LeGuin (it's hard to be light-hearted about freezing to death), but Austen, too is a realist. They both deal in emotion as strong as any of the Romantic writers, but emotion doesn't conquer all; conscious choices do, backed by effort.
Also, they both write like angels. And the movie's good, too.