A Jane Austen Education Author Agrees - Love is a Verb
In A Jane Austen Education, the author and narrator describes his path from youth to adulthood, and from immaturity to wisdom, through the lessons he learned from Jane Austen’s six books.
I wish I had had the time to read all six of the books (which the publisher generously sent) before I endeavored to read this book. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had been familiar with the characters that William Deresiewicz quotes, describes, and learns from.
However, anyone can find a glimpse of truth or meaning in any book, no matter how far over her head it may be, if she looks hard enough. My favorite truth in this book is what Deresiewicz learned from Mansfield Park. “Love... is a verb, not just a noun -- an effort, not just another precious feeling.”
My husband and I have argued this point. I have always believed that love is a verb -- it’s something that one chooses to do and to give. It’s putting the person that you love first, ahead of yourself, and doing useful things for them. It’s acting with regard for that person’s feelings and well-being. It’s not just a flutter of the stomach. If you love someone without showing them through your actions toward them (and particularly when they’re not around), then do you really love them? I don’t think so.
My husband, though, believes that love is a feeling. He says he can’t expound on that because it’s a feeling, like happiness or anger. He says it would be like trying to describe “blue” to a blind person. (Oddly, I could totally do that. Light blue is the color of what cold water tastes like on a hot day when you’re really thirsty. Royal blue is a little harder, but if I were called upon to describe it to the blind, I would say it’s almost the color that trumpets sound like, except that trumpets are more of a purple). Perhaps we need to read Mansfield Park together to sort it all out.
He’s an engineer and I’m more of a writer, so one would guess that if one of us were going to believe that love is a feeling, it would be me, and if anyone were going to take a more practical, hands-on approach toward love, it would be him. I guess that’s why this conversation that we have (that we’ve been having for years) is so delightful to me -- because it shows his romantic side and my practical side, and the way we each bring out interesting new facets in the other.
According to Deresiewicz, the fact that we bring out these unexpected qualities in each other, the fact that we each cause the other to learn and grow, means that Jane Austen would approve of our relationship and call it “love,” something she didn’t believe every person would be capable of experiencing. Something that Austen, herself, never found, apparently.
I’m looking forward to returning to A Jane Austen Education once I’ve had a chance to read Austen’s novels. If you’re a fan already, I’m sure you’ll find lots to think about in Deresiewicz’s book.