A Jane Austen Education: Get Over Yourself With Austen (SPOILERS)

BlogHer Review

As I started reading A Jane Austen Education I felt like I was reading the memoirs of every guy I dated in college. Arrogant, know-it-alls, with no idea what love or even relationships were.

William Deresiewicz owns his shortcoming and corrects them through the analysis of Jane Austen’s six novels. Bored to tears with the initial assignment of reading Austen’s Emma he begins to slowly dissect it and sees in the boring main character, in the long drawn on conversations, a reflection of himself. He realizes that he is not listening to the world around him. Breaks up with his girlfriend who he felt as a waitress was beneath him, and Deresiewicz begins to listen and appreciate what people and the world is saying to him.

SPOILERS!

Emma is a monumental novel in Deresiewicz's world. He truly changes as a person. He went from hating the mere thought of Austen and craving the writings of Joyce to embarking on an examination of himself and his life through Austen's books.

Pride and Prejudice taught him to grow up, stop relying on his parents, and embrace his independence. Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice has her faults. It is through these faults, these life mistakes, that we grow.

Northanger Abby taught Deresiewicz to learn like a child learns, with a fresh and open mind. He had an influential teacher who encouraged his students to read for the joy of reading, handing in one page write-ups of books as opposed to the required graduate school essays with footnotes and multiple references. This simplified things, learning should be enjoyable it should be, “about getting back in touch with the ways we used to read -- the ways people read when they are reading for fun.”

Mansfield Park brought awareness to Deresiewicz's social situation. He was hanging out with an Upper East Side crowd that “was that realm of luxury and cruelty, glamor and greed, coldness and and fun, if not a modern day version of ?” He likened himself to the character of Fanny Price. An outsider, an observer of the excess, only fitting in and being used for the pleasure of the wealthy. He like Fanny would always only be a spectator.

The final two chapters explore Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility where he finds both the value of true friendship and true love. Marrying for the right reasons, not social standing but rather a genuine connection. Look for character in your mate.

When Deresiewicz finally did meet and fall in love with his future wife he listened to her, didn’t judge (she was a waitress from Cleveland), didn’t get caught up in her social status, and he introduced her to the important people in his life. Without the skills he learned from his tireless study of Jane Austen this relationship would have never worked.

I was partial to the stories of Deresiewicz's life, not his dissection of Jane Austens novels. While I praise him for his passion I am not a Janeite and will never be one. His journey and the growth over his studies had me glued to the pages. While he gives Austen’s characters more meaning to me they still aren’t hopping off the page compelling me to re-examine her work (although I kind of want to rent the DVD’s of Emma and Mansfield Park).

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