A Jane Austen Education Left Me Clueless

BlogHer Review

When I first opened my copy of A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz, I was eager to settle in and delve into how the words of one of my favorite author's helped change the life of Deresiewicz. What I didn't expect to happen was to have so much trouble actually "settling in" with this book.

Sometimes delving into a book is a bit like finding a comfortable position in which to watch a long movie. You shift from side to side, lean on a pillow, or perhaps you try to recline a bit. Eventually you find your sweet spot and enjoy your movie. I never found a comfortable position when reading through Deresiewicz's autobiographical journey with Jane Austen. I took me the better part of eight days to get through this book.

At the start of the book I found myself annoyed with Deresiewicz because he came across as smarmy, arrogant and categorized Austen in a not-so-pleasant light. I kept hoping, with each turn of the page, that as he came to know Austen through her wonderful works, that I'd begin to like him, or at least understand him a bit better.

As I read each page I felt like I was traversing very familiar, yet uninspiring and tedious territory. It was as if I had already been there before, but somehow during my previous journeys the landscape was vibrant and enchanting and captured my attention. Deresiewicz's book was like walking through the same territories but seeing it through someone else's eyes. Someone I didn't care for or want to get to know any better.

Deresiewicz recounted entire passages from Austen's work but I never truly understood the deep connection he claimed to have had with her, or how it genuinely impacted his life.

I tried to grasp his life lessons via each one of Austen's novels but instead of feeling any sort of kinship (which I wrongly assumed would happen because of my own deep affections for Austen's novels) with Deresiewicz, I simply felt like I was reading a glorified book review. I found myself, several times over as a matter of fact, wanting to pull out the wonderful companion copy of all of Jane Austen's works that was sent along with Deresiewicz's book and enjoy that journey, again, through my own eyes rather than through those of a man I merely considered an academic who was reviewing Austen's work but added a personal twist to it in order to make it interesting and somewhat relate-able to his audience.

There have only been a few times in the recent past where I can recall closing a book after reading it and being grateful I'd made it through the entire book. This was one of those times. If you've never had the immense pleasure of reading any of Jane Austen's works, you might enjoy this book. However, if you're a great fan of Austen and are looking for a book with substance and not just a simple retelling of her stories, this probably is not the book for you.