A Jane Austen Education Fails to Make the Grade

BlogHer Review
Have you read All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, that catchy little essay about the ways the simple lessons of an early age -- share everything, play fair, take a nap, etc -- can be translated to everyday life?

That’s what A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter reminded me of… except that the lessons learned are those taken from the novels of Jane Austen. I’ve read and enjoyed Austen’s books. In fact, Penguin was kind enough to send a compilation of Jane Austen books to those of us reviewing A Jane Austen Education, and I’m well into Pride and Prejudice for what must be the fourth or fifth time. But maybe I’m not enough of a "Janeite" to truly love William Deresiewicz's A Jane Austen Education.

For me, Deresiewicz spends too much time defending his own love of Austen for me to actually feel like he DOES love Austen. Much of the story seems to be an argument for all the reasons he shouldn’t have a deep appreciation for Austen, i.e., ‘real’ literary minds don’t love Austen, her stories are just romance novels, the stories are about everyday life and without any true plotlines. True, Deresiewicz rebuts those arguments, but I couldn’t help but feel that the author doth protest too much. Was he convincing the reader or himself? Every argument for an appreciation of Austen distracted from the lessons the author supposedly was learning.

I do think that a true Janeite would love Deresiewicz’s book, if only because it would be fun to mentally agree or disagree with his take on the characters in Austen’s novels. He has decided opinions on which characters he loves and which he despises, and his opinions may not be agreed with universally.

I also enjoyed reading the author’s story of young adulthood, and he wove the tales of growing up (chronologically and emotionally) in nicely as he recited the lessons gleaned from six of Austen’s novels. The story was sweet and it had a soothing, happy ending. Unfortunately, I just didn’t love this book.

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