Jane Austen, Life Coach? - Reviewing A Jane Austen Education
Is it possible to find a road map for our modern lives in the pages of Jane Austen’s 19th century novels? In A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz looks back on his life through a looking glass crafted by the characters, stories, and lessons found in Austen’s six novels.
A once-reluctant reader of Jane Austen turned avid Austen scholar, Deresiewicz divides A Jane Austen Education into six sections; each of Austen’s novels offers a different life lesson, and he intersperses her work with his personal experiences, observations about those experiences, and what Austen taught him through her novels’ meanings.
Deresiewicz’s wealth of knowledge about Austen and her work is far-reaching and impressive. A general understanding of the type of novels Austen wrote, or a basic knowledge of her time period, may be beneficial to a reader of Deresiewicz’s book. However, he seamlessly lays a foundation of information about her novels for each of the life experiences he speaks about throughout the book, so it isn’t necessary to have read all or any of Austen’s six novels to follow Deresiewicz’s reasoning and conclusions.
Something I found to be a slight hindrance to my enjoyment of A Jane Austen Education is the finality with which Deresiewicz states Austen’s thoughts and intentions. I believe that it isn’t possible to know with absolute certainty what an author means in his or her work, unless he or she explicitly expresses that meaning outside the confines of the novel’s words. Personally, I find that novels can be critiqued and understood in different ways at different times, using both the author’s general intentions and a reader’s specific experiences to shape the novel reading experience.
My favorite part of A Jane Austen Education was the chapter on “True Friends,” Deresiewicz’s dissection of Persuasion, which is actually one of the Austen novels that I have not read. I think the idea of building a community out of friends and family we actively seek out is extremely relevant in the modern world, where technology makes it possible to forge connections with people all over the world in ways not even considered in Austen’s time.
I enjoyed reading A Jane Austen Education, in part because it renewed my interest in Jane Austen’s work, making me want to read her novels, some of them for the first time. For me, adding six books to my “to-read” list is a definite positive!