Insightful Lessons in A Jane Austen Education

BlogHer Review
I thought I understood Jane Austen. Wait. I thought I "knew" Jane Austen. After all, I had read her books, seen the movies made about her books, and could easily quote some of my favorite scenes. Along with that I thought I understood life, and love, and friendship. I was wrong. As I began to read A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz I began to analyze and study my own life and my own mindsets as well as look at my favorite novels with fresh and opened eyes.

Honestly, I was slightly skeptical that I would really learn anything new about Jane Austen from this book. I was looking forward to reading a man’s perspective on one of my favorite authors. Instead of finding a dissertation on Jane Austen’s books I instead found a rich weaving of one’s own story with Jane Austen’s story with the characters of her books stories.

It was lovely. And insightful.

And exactly what I needed to read.

William Deresiewicz takes the reader through his own growing up, his own coming into himself, as he dissects six novels -- Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and Sense and Sensibility -- that Jane Austen wrote. Within each novel there was an underlying lesson, a proverb of sorts to be found, and a vital step in life to be learned. Dereziewicz skillfully weaves excerpts from various Austen books with snippets of Austen’s own history with moments of his own adult life creating this cohesive lesson on life that you don't even realize you are learning till you're in the midst of it.

I was hooked from the first chapter. Deresiewicz's lesson from Emma was to, “pay attention to the everyday things.” How often does one go through life looking at the big moments and missing the beauty in the everyday? Deresiewicz begins to draw the reader into his life as he illuminates his own discovery of joy in the “minute particulars” of life taught to him through the book Emma. From that chapter on, each chapter, each book, began to cause me, the reader, to look at my own presuppositions about life and begin to challenge those very thoughts.

It wasn’t only a memoir, but a lesson.

I was a diehard Jane Austen fan when I read this book, and honestly, this book has caused a renewed interest in pulling out my collection of Austen favorites. For those of you who are skeptics about Jane Austen reading this book has the potential to make you dust off that old edition of Pride and Prejudice and give it a second chance. A Jane Austen Education is an excellent book -- worth taking a Sunday afternoon, grabbing a cup of your favorite coffee, and re-examining life through the insightful words of William Deresiewicz.

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