A Jane Austen Education: A Lesson in Austen 101

BlogHer Review

I have a secret to confess. I have never read a Jane Austen novel. I've meant to, but every time I have tried I've become distracted and put down the book. Each one I have tried to read seemed stuffy and bogged down with a lot of dialogue. Well, thanks to A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz, I might have to pick up a book again.

When Deresiewicz, an arrogant graduate student, first started reading Austen’s novels it was with great weariness. What could he possibly gain from reading such silly romance novels, he thought. He soon found that once he dissected Austen's novels there was a great deal to learn about life. Deresiewicz's narrative of how these life lessons taught him throughout his life is similar to Austen's novels (in that which the heroine grows up and falls in love). The lessons in the book are explained so thoroughly and are very easy to relate to; they are also lessons that we all face growing up. He uses six of Austen’s novels to base his theory on: Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility, to varying degrees of success. One section I found to be very interesting were the lessons revealed in Mansfield Park, where Deresiewicz was captivated by a group of socialites in Manhattan, and he found in this novel the understanding that sometimes the most charming people are not always the best company:

“But I finally learned that there is something more important, in the people you know, than whether they are fun... I saw that there is a better way to value people. Not as fun or not fun, or stylish or not stylish, but as warm or cold, generous or selfish. People who think about others and people who don’t. People who know how to listen, and people who only know how to talk.”

Reading Deresiewicz's dissection of each novel made me want to go revisit them. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his perceptions of the novels, and learning more about Austen through excerpts of correspondence, and facts regarding her life. Whether or not Deresiewicz is reaching to pull these lessons out, I cannot comment on because I have not finished any novels of Austen’s, but I fully enjoyed making those connections with him. The only part of the book that was a little disappointing for me was the details about Deresiewicz's own life. I would have liked a little more information about his journey incorporated into the book. The book is fairly short, and a little more about his character development would have gone a long way. Sometimes he sounds little detached during those sections of A Jane Austen Education.

That being said, I still found A Jane Austen Education a very interesting read, one that makes me want to reread and look more critically at all her novels, and even other novels I have read.

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