Self Improvement via A Jane Austen Education

BlogHer Review
A Jane Austen Education provides us with a new maxim: Boys shouldn't write chick-lit. Just like moms probably aren't the best people to teach their sons how to pee standing up, using Jane Austen's decidedly female and feminine characters to correct his own behavior is a stretch for a man. And if that man is self-described as sullen and arrogant, the results are not pretty. Not pretty at all, I'm sorry to say.

Billy Deresiewicz taught at Yale and has been short-listed for many impressive prizes. I have to imagine, then, that this is not his best work. He's a talented writer, but he seemed to be stretching to extend Austen's little particulars to the wonder that he sees as his own life.

I suppose that he thought it was disarmingly charming to relate the tales of how rotten he was before Miss Austen's writings made him fit for human company. I squirmed, I rolled my eyes, I laughed at him, not with him. He was a bright kid with a privileged education and he had a hard time growing up. Big deal.

His personal anecdotes lack the nuance and grace of those in Emma or Pride and Prejudice or the other 4 novels he details. I'd read 4 of the 6 books, and found myself hollering at the page as Deresiewicz misunderstood the very essence of what I loved about them. Okay, he misunderstood, in my opinion, the loves in Sense and Sensibility. He imbued them with a sense of sorrow, of opportunity lost, of settling for second best. I left the book happy. Oh, well... we can agree to disagree.

What bothered me about A Jane Austen Education was the general premise. William Deresiewicz never came close to making me care about his growth. He just didn't seem to be worth the effort.

On another note, the review copy came with a gorgeous compendium of six Austen novels in a lovely binding by Penguin. It's a good, big, fun beach read if you're looking for just one book to take on vacation this summer.


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