A Jane Austen Education: Escape or Analyze?
By Leigh Anne Wilkes on May 31, 2011
I have been a lover of all things Jane Austen since my high school British Literature teacher introduced me to the world of Pride and Prejudice many years ago. A world that the author William Deresiewicz of A Jane Austen Education, describes as “A heroine and a romance, a Mr. Wrong and a Mr. Right, perils and misunderstandings, conflicts and complications, revelations and reversals, and at last, a happy ending.” These are the very elements of each of Jane Austen’s novels.
I fell in love instantly with Austen’s novels and have lost count of the number of times I have escaped into the world of Elizabeth and Jane, Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley and so many other Austen characters. Jane Austen’s books have always been a means of escape for me, a place to go when life was just a bit too complicated. It is a place where I didn’t have to think or even worry because I knew that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy were destined to be together.
Reading A Jane Austen Education introduced me to a totally different way of thinking about Pride and Prejudice and the other Austen novels. Looking into the world of Jane Austen through a man’s eyes and perspective was a different experience, especially a man who admits to initially considering Pride and Prejudice to be the “girliest novelist of all, the godmother of chick lit.” Deresiewicz’s approach to writing about Jane and her novels was a bit too academic and textbook for my taste. He analyzes each novel and shares what he believes to be the lesson Austen was trying to teach us in each book. He shares his life lessons learned and how those lessons applied to his life today. I prefer to enjoy rather than analyze when it comes to Jane Austen.
Granted, Mr. Deresiewicz learned some good life lessons. I am not convinced that some of them are what Jane Austen intended for us get out the novel but a good novel does just that, allows us to see and learn what we need to learn at that time in our life. It meets us where we are at. As the author himself said, “We can find what we are looking for if we look hard enough.”
When you read one of Jane Austen’s novels your life lessons learned may be different from Mr. Deresiewicz’s for they will be your life lessons. But in the meantime we can also learn from the author’s life lessons. One of my favorite being the lesson he learned in regards to Jane Austen herself:
"Her own way was to make art out of the very things that absorbed her attention in her own life. Every life is eventful, if only you know how to look at it. She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts and what fills our hearts should fill our novels."
If you are in the mood to analyze rather than escape, A Jane Austen Education is a fun way to take a new and different look at Jane Austen than you may have done before.
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