The Lessons William Deresiewicz Learns In A Jane Austen Education
I have long suspected that the secrets to life, happiness, and the universe could be found in a Jane Austen novel. Apparently, I was wrong. They can be found in six Jane Austen novels.
A Jane Austen Education is author William Deresiewicz's memoir of his journey through Austen’s six major novels: Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility. Originally believing that Austen’s novels to be “chick lit” and “silly romantic fairy tales” Deresiewicz’s first encounter with Austen came only after he was assigned Emma as a graduate student at Columbia University. Instead of banality and fluff, Deresiewicz found enough life lessons to spur him on to read the rest of Austen’s works.
So… what did Ms. Austen have to teach Mr. Deresiewicz? From Emma he learned the importance of the everyday and living in the moment. “Life is lived in the little.” Pride and Prejudice taught him that growing up, for him as well as for Elizabeth Bennett, means making mistakes. What’s important is learning from those mistakes and moving forward. Northanger Abbey (my personal favorite) taught him about being open to all that life gives you, the good and the bad. The only thing certain about life is its uncertainty and, if you’re truly living, it will always catch you by surprise. In Mansfield Park (his least favorite) he learns lessons about being a good friend and about being good in general. Persuasion has more lessons on true friendship, including the fact that true friends do not protect you from making mistakes and that friends may become our families and sometimes family even becomes friends. And finally, in Sense and Sensibility he learns that "love is not something that happens to you, suddenly or otherwise; it's something you have to prepare yourself for.
I really did enjoy all of this book—the parts about Jane Austen’s books as well as Deresiewicz’s stories from his own life. Sometimes I felt like he was stretching a bit far to connect the two, but all in all, I felt it was a very well-written book. If nothing else, it’s inspired me to stock up on tea and snacks, carve out some time, and re-read Jane Austen’s novels myself.