Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Jane Austen
When I received my copy of A Jane Austen Education by A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, I was prepared to slug my way through a tome that extolled the virtues of an author I never particularly enjoyed reading in high school and college.
Much like the author mentions at the beginning of the book, I simply could not really get into Austen. I read her because they were assigned in class, but never went further than that. In my mind, there were many great books I enjoyed, Austen was simply assigned material to complete a class.
Deresiewicz does extoll Austen, but in a way that is actually relatable to 21st century life. He intermixes the themes of six of her novels with his own coming of age, from graduate school, to friendships, to eventually meeting and falling in love with his wife. The journey begins with Emma and why the little everyday things really matter, and culminates with Sense and Sensibility and the lesson of love and growing up. In between are four more lessons, on growing up, learning, being good, and friendship, all of the lessons we teach to our children as well, without the assistance of Austen's novels.
The intriguing part of it all is not the Austen references, but how the author is able to show his own story, relating back to her novels. His story parallels the lessons he chooses from the novels, and that makes Austen more accessible to the typical reader. Appreciating Austen for Austen is difficult, but appreciating Austen for the simplicity of the lessons in her novels is appealing.
After all of this, I do not suddenly have the urge to pick up Pride and Prejudice or Mansfield Park to read one more time. However, I do see a little more than I ascribed to them many years ago, and that in itself could be considered a success.