A Jane Austen Education: A Guide to Life
What could we possibly learn from the likes of Emma, Elizabeth, Catherine, Anne, Elinore and Marianne, or from Henry, Edward, Wentworth, Willoughby, Mr. Collins, Miss Bates or Mr. Darcy? What significance do these characters from the mid-19th century British novels of Jane Austen have to do with our modern 21st century lives? I didn’t think much until I read William Deresiewicz's memoir, A Jane Austen Education.
William Deresiewicz presents a chapter on each of Austen’s books and the lessons he learned from the characters of each, and he shows how her characters reflected the stage of life Austen was in at the time of writing each novel. He gave me a whole new perspective on Austen and her novels, and I am excited to pick up The Complete Novels now and read them from that new perspective and see what it is I can learn for myself from Austin’s characters.
Like him, I was never much of an Austen fan. I’ve only read one of her books, Pride and Prejudice, which I read for an AP English in high school. I didn’t hate it, but it never grabbed me. I really couldn’t remember much of the book after finishing it. At 17, I preferred all the drama of books like Wuthering Heights. The musings of everyday 19th century life just didn’t excite me. To William her books were nothing more then “silly romantic fairy tales”. That is until he met Emma Woodhouse.
I found Deresiewicz’s book to be more than a memoir. It’s a guide on how to look at Austen’s characters and learn from their mistakes and strengths. Deresiewicz looked at Austen as a person, he looked at her motivations and her reasons for creating her characters. He says of Austen’s characters on page 31 in his chapter "Emma: Every Day Matters,“: "They were weaving the web of community, one strand of conversation at a time. They were creating the world in the process of talking about it.” Most books are written to be an escape from life, what I got from Deresiewicz’s perspective of Austen’s novels, was that her books were not an escape, but a picture of everyday life, put there to observe and learn from. To learn important things like valuing your significant other’s perspective on life, and that losing a fight could ultimately be good for you.
A Jane Austen Education made me smile often and even choked me up a few times. I found myself falling in love with some of Austen’s characters, and thoroughly disliking others. It was refreshing to see at least one man in this world “get it”. This is a great read for anyone in or hoping to be in a relationship. I know it opened my eyes to so much in my own relationships.
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