A Jane Austen Education Made Me Want to Reread P&P
I hate reading Jane Austen novels. That's why A Jane Austen Education couldn't have come into my life at a better time. My neighborhood book club is planning to read Pride and Prejudice and I openly expressed my disdain for that book. I read it in college, and it was such a chore. I hated all the characters. Why did they sit around talking about getting married all the time? Didn't they have anything better to do?! I couldn't relate. I was working multiple jobs, going to school full-time, and still trying to maintain a social life. So I've been dreading Pride and Prejudice because I believe I'm better than all those silly girls.
William Deresiewicz, the author of A Jane Austen Education, felt similarly about Austen's collection of novels. In the beginning, he admits he thought of chick lit as fluffy and vain. He couldn't relate to characters and felt they were all mundane and beneath him as well. In his own college career, he wanted literature that was complicated and exciting, with plot twists and more developed characters.
While reading Emma, though, Deresiewicz had a break though. He realized that Austen writes about our every day lives, and that's what makes her work great. Deresiewicz grew to appreciate that the subtle day-to-day became interesting and memorable through Austen's eyes. Sure, she could create fantastic stories with passion and suspense, but that wasn't her genre.
As I continued reading Deresiewicz's thoughts on Austen, I found myself getting anxious to start reading Pride and Prejudice with a new perspective. I don't think it'll become one of my favorite books, but I hope to take a look at it with less pre-conceived ideas about it being boring.
According to Deresiewicz, Pride and Prejudice has the potential to teach the reader about growing up. Northanger Abbey teaches one how to learn. Mansfield Park discusses being good. Persuasion leads one to understand what true friends are. And Sense and Sensibility can show the reader how to fall in love.
Deresiewicz weaves his own personal life into his book and tells the reader how Austen helped him make necessary changes according to the topic he developed within each novel. He changed how he looked at others, he changed how he developed friendships, he changed how he felt about love.
Allow me to share a few highlights from my reading (THESE ARE NOT SPOILERS SO FEEL FREE TO KEEP READING!!)
In reference to Northanger Abbey/learning how to learn, Deresiewicz tells us to "...pay attention, above all, to your own feelings, because the world is always trying to get you to lie to yourself about them" (Deresiewicz, 96).
Fanny Price, the main character of Mansfield Park never finds herself a place of prominence in Deresiewicz's heart, but he still loves what the novel teaches him. Maybe we aren't supposed to like Fanny. Maybe we're just supposed to try being better people, and show respect through our everyday actions.
Sense and Sensibility really opened Deresiewicz's eyes to the idea of falling in love. He realized that Austen's characters sometimes learn to love rather than just fall in love at the drop of a hat. In that sense, "True love takes you by surprise" (Deresiewicz, 237) because all of a sudden you discover that your regard for someone has grown from high esteem to love. What really hooked me at the end of this section was Deresiewicz's understanding that perhaps Austen is also trying to teach her readers that not everyone finds love and marriage. Since Deresiewicz's book jacket says nothing about his personal life, and whether or not he himself is married, I couldn't wait to get through the conclusion to see if he finds Austen-character-love or not.
If you've ever felt bored to tears reading Austen, then I recommend Deresiewicz's book. I wasn't looking forward to reading his take on Austen, but I hoped it would do me some good. I was skeptical that reading a book about Austen could encourage me to give her a second try, but Deresiewicz got me. And I'm so glad Penguin sent along The Complete Novels of Austen so I can get started right away on Pride and Prejudice. I can't guarantee I'll love it this time around, but I do intend to refer back to Deresiewicz's chapter on P&P to keep me from tossing it aside in frustration.