Welcome to Grown-Up Land, Mr. Deresiewicz!
By Jenny Lauck on June 16, 2011
I’ve loved Jane Austen’s novels since my late teens, and thought that WWilliam Deresiewicz's book A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter would be a delightful read. The cover illustration! The charming fonts! How could it be anything but a pleasure? See, I have a history of judging books by the cover. (Cue the ominous music)
Right from the first page, I was exasperated by Deresiewicz’s candor about his lack of, shall we say, enlightenment about love, friendship and things that really matter to (most) people. There he was eating ramen noodles, having Daddy issues, wallowing in his intellectual superiority complex and treating his relationships with disdain, and I got a little judgmental about his late bloomer angst. I’m not proud of myself, but I believe there were some sarcastic slow claps and some eye rolling on my part as he sulked his way through the first chapters.
I loved the scholarship and behind-the-scenes insight that Deresiewicz brings to each of Austen’s novels. For as many times as I’ve read her books, I haven’t really explored Jane Austen’s personal history, and Deresiewicz brings her to life in passages woven throughout the book. I especially loved the humorous personal correspondence Deresiewicz included to illustrate Austen’s relationship with her nieces and nephews. Deresiewicz’s admiration for Austen shines throughout, and brought me a fresh appreciation for one of my favorite authors.
While I appreciated the life lessons that Deresiewicz teased out and applied to his own life, I had trouble seeing him as a sympathetic character. Austen shows us that every person we encounter can contribute to our understanding of the way the world works and our place in it. Some of her most memorable characters are those whose behavior and motivations are selfish, childish and hurtful to others on their individual paths to growing up. Willam Deresiewicz challenged me to look beyond his mistakes to see the educational value in his narrative, whether or not I related to his personal path to respect and responsibility. I think Jane Austen would have liked that.
In hindsight, it’s very personal-bloggeresque of Deresiewicz to have painted such an ungentle portrait of himself as a young man. We bloggers like that kind of honesty -- and I found myself trying to root for him to learn how to value not only those around him, but himself. And really, who better than Jane Austen to knock some Sense and Sensibility into this guy?
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