A True "Jane-ite" Tells Us What Really Matters in A Jane Austen Education
By Brittany Ann on June 02, 2011
Reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is almost like a rite of passage for every young, 20-something female.
If you haven't read it by the time you've finished high school, you're bound to delve in when you hit your college years.
It's almost iconic, for us girls.
But it turns out the boys can glean a little from it, too.
William Deresiewicz did just that, learning many a life lesson from Jane Austen's works during his college and graduate-school years. And in A Jane Austen Education, he explains to readers everywhere how being a “Jane-ite” changed his entire world outlook and modus operandi.
Thanks to a 19th-century British woman, Deresiewicz says, he's a different man. And not just because he spent his late 20s writing a dissertation on Austen's works.
As a former English teacher, I almost felt as if this book should have been required reading for any academic -– young or old, male or female –- assigned to read one of Austen's classics.
Thanks to Deresiewicz's personal anecdotes about his early years as an over-protected undergraduate in New York City and his later years as a tag-along in the upper echelons of Manhattan society, we can easily see the messages, mysteries, and ironies Austen hoped to reveal in the novels Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility
We understand why Austen focuses on the mundane in Emma -– as Deresiewicz so clearly shows us, the simple, relational moments are what life's all about.
And we get why Austen dashes our hopes of a flyaway romance in Sense and Sensibility –- after all, making a choice to love the right person is not really about passionate kisses and rose petals, Deresiewicz explains. The key to a good relationship, it turns out, is balance.
In essence, thanks to A Jane Austen Education, we comprehend why the infamous author made the choices she did for her characters and for herself.
Personally, I enjoyed the tidbits of Austen's personal letters and familial correspondence Deresiewicz included more than I enjoyed the excerpted pieces of Austen's work. It was a nice blend of the present day -– Deresiewicz's own story –- with that of his figurative, long-dead mentor –- Austen herself.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure the book would be so well-received by those who aren't already fans of the classic Austen novels or, worse yet, were assigned this book as supplemental reading for some routine school assignment.
Other than the author's colorful, first-person anecdotes, certain parts of the book can get a bit bogged down in literary analysis and the aforementioned excerpted literature.
Those that lack the passion Deresiewicz himself so clearly has for British literature and Austen's books might find the style and analysis a bit routine and a bit predictable.
Luckily, for me –- a fellow “Jane-ite” -- after this read, I couldn't get enough.
I wanted nothing more than to crack open the six novels Derewiesicz so brilliantly analyzed and re-read them, wondering where my story fits in, wondering what Jane Austen could so poignantly reflect back at me about my own life.
It's an interesting concept, what Derewiesicz is selling.
He's telling the reader that time, place, and gender don't matter.
Life has simple lessons to teach us all, and we can find a great many of those lessons revealed in the simple works of a woman who lived centuries before us.
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