In A Jane Austen Education, Austen scholar William Deresiewicz turns to the author's novels to reveal the remarkable life lessons hidden within. With humor and candor, Deresiewicz employs his own experiences to demonstrate the enduring power of Austen's teachings. Progressing from his days as an immature student to a happily married man, Deresiewicz's A Jane Austen Education is the story of one man's discovery of the world outside himself.
A self-styled intellectual rebel dedicated to writers such as James Joyce and Joseph Conrad, Deresiewicz never thought Austen's novels would have anything to offer him. But when he was assigned to read Emma as a graduate student at Columbia, something extraordinary happened. Austen's devotion to the everyday, and her belief in the value of ordinary lives, ignited something in Deresiewicz. He began viewing the world through Austen's eyes and treating those around him as generously as Austen treated her characters. Along the way, Deresiewicz was amazed to discover that the people in his life developed the depth and richness of literary characters-that his own life had suddenly acquired all the fascination of a novel. His real education had finally begun.
Weaving his own story-and Austen's-around the ones her novels tell, Deresiewicz shows how her books are both about education and themselves an education. Her heroines learn about friendship and feeling, staying young and being good, and, of course, love. As they grow up, they learn lessons that are imparted to Austen's reader, who learns and grows by their sides.
A Jane Austen Education is a testament to the transformative power of literature, a celebration of Austen's mastery, and a joy to read. Whether for a newcomer to Austen or a lifelong devotee, Deresiewicz brings fresh insights to the novelist and her beloved works. Ultimately, Austen's world becomes indelibly entwined with our own, showing the relevance of her message and the triumph of her vision.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Temma: Everyday Matters 1
Chapter 2 Pride and Prejudice: Growing Up 39
Chapter 3 Northanger Abbey: Learning to Learn 77
Chapter 4 Mansfield Park: Being Good 119
Chapter 5 Persuasion: True Friends 165
Chapter 6 Sense and Sensibility: Falling in Love 203
Chapter 7 The End of the Story 247
What People are Saying About This
“Sharp, endearingly self-effacing... a profound truth lies embedded in Deresiewicz’s witty account.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
“Like Austen, Deresiewicz is lucid, principled and knows how to think as well as how to feel, without ever sacrificing one to the other…. a delightful and enlightening book. —SLATE
“An entertaining and original version of literary criticism—as autobiography.” —THE SEATTLE TIMES
“With A Jane Austen Education, Deresiewicz writes with discerning wit and quiet perception about the lessons in friendship, empathy, honesty, happiness, and love he learns from each of Austen's immortal novels.” —CHICAGO TRIBUNE
“[Deresiewicz] is charming on the page. He talks about literary characters as if they were real people, and about Austen as if she lived at the end of the block…he does so in a style that comes across as fresh and conversational, like a genuinely witty bibliophile you’d like to talk with at a party." —LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS
“[Deresiewicz] writes with wit, charm and candor, and the result is simply delightful." —ASSOCIATED PRESS
Reading Group Guide
William Deresiewicz begins A Jane Austen Education by confessing an initial condescension toward nineteenthcentury British literature in general and Jane Austen in particular. He prefers the more difficult modern novelistsJoyce, Faulkner, Conrad, Nabokov. Why waste your time, he thinks, on the trifling romantic problems and daily gossip of the British uppercrust when you can wrestle with the weighty themes and linguistic acrobatics of worldclass intellects? Such was the attitude of the arrogant, narcissistic graduate student William Deresiewicz, a young man who, not surprisingly, had trouble sustaining his relationships.
But as he studies Austen, with the help of an engagingly Socratic professor, Deresiewicz begins to see what Austen is really up to beneath the smooth and seemingly uneventful surfaces of her novels. More important, he sees that Austen is in fact shining a very bright light on his very own shortcomings.
A Jane Austen Education explores each of Austen’s six novels, and in each Deresiewicz uncovers a lesson that applies directly, often uncannily so, to his own life. He learns that Austen’s apparently pointless passages of “trivial” dialogue are actually her way of honoring her characters, their lives, their daily concerns. He sees that his own attempts to seem serious and important are in fact pretentious and offputting. He doesn’t listen to his friends, he makes speeches designed to impress them. Austen shows him that the stories we tell about our daily livesand more important, how we listen to the stories of othersare where the real action is, not in lofty discourses or complicated language games or melodramatic adventures. He learns from Austen that “every life is eventful, if only you know how to look at it” (p. 27).
How you look at thingsat your conversations, at your friends, your lovers, your teachers, your students, the novels you’re readingmakes all the difference. Again and again, Deresiewicz returns to Austen’s novels to find something significant he missed on first reading. In doing so he discovers that many of his cherished assumptions are wrong.
He finds that Austen, who died nearly two hundred years ago and never married, has much to teach him about his own lifeabout how to grow up, how to be a better teacher and friend, what wealth and comfort can do to people, what true love looks like, and much more.
In a time that has largely abandoned the notion of reading literature for moral guidance, Deresiewicz offers a refreshing reminder that great books really can help us live our lives. His willingness to show readers precisely how Austen helped him become a better persona more empathic, generous, useful personrequires him to reveal just how badly mistaken he was about almost everything that matters and just what a insensitive, selfimportant young man he was. Doing so requires a great deal of humilitya quality which he learned, of course, from Jane Austen herself.
ABOUT WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ
William Deresiewicz was an associate professor of English at Yale University until 2008 and is a widely published book critic. His reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Slate, and The American Scholar. He was nominated for the National Magazine Award in 2008, 2009, and 2011 and the National Book Critics Circle’s Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing in 2010 and 2011. He is the author of Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets.
A CONVERSATION WITH WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ
Q. How did you hit upon the idea writing a memoir about your relationship to Jane Austen’s novels?
It actually happened by accident. I was having an interview for an academic job, and at the very end, the head of the hiring committee posed a question that she must have been dying to ask me the whole time. Glancing down at my résuméthere were three projects I had either written or was planning to write, and all of them had the words “Jane Austen” in the titleshe asked, “So what’s with you and Jane Austen?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. Finally, I just blurted out a phrase that had already been rolling around in my head for a long time. “Well,” I said, “sometimes I just feel like everything I know about life I learned by reading Jane Austen.” And she said, “That would make a great book.”
I thought about it for a while and realized she was right. But I also realized that if I was going to write about the lessons I had learned from Jane Austen, I would need to write about the way I had learned them. In other words, I would have to write a memoir, which was going to involve a lot of excruciating honesty.
Q. Were you surprised at just how many uncanny correspondences you found between the challenges in your own life and those faced by Austen’s characters?
Absolutely. I had never had such a personal relationship with an author before, and I certainly never expected a woman novelist, writing about upperclass English girls who only wanted to get married, to speak so directly to my own experiencesomeone who wasn’t upperclass, or English, or a girl, and who certainly didn’t want to ever get married. Now, of course, I realize that those prejudices were absurd. Austen, like every great writer, wrote about eternal problems. Though I should say that when I taught her books to college students, a lot of them (and not necessarily only the boys) would have the same resistance, even though they were perfectly willing to accept that someone like Homer or Shakespeare could speak to what they were going through.
Q. In reading Austen for the life lessons her novels provide you’re committing a kind of academic apostasy. Why do you think most academics stopped reading literature in this way?
I think that kind of reading got a bad name during the Victorian era, when literature was reduced to nothing but moral instruction, often of the most clichéd and conventional kind. It was not only didactic and sentimental, it also tended to ignore the artistic qualities of a poem or novel or play. Modernism, the kind of literature I loved the most before I encountered Austen, was a reaction to that. Art for art’s sake, as they said: the notion that literature could serve any practical or moral function, could help you live your life, was regarded as vulgar. Since it was that period that gave rise to the academic study of literature as we know it, those attitudes were simply taken up as part of the profession. You were only supposed to study a work’s artistic features (or, more recently, its political implications), so that everything personal was taken out. It’s not just by talking about life lessons that I’m committing apostasy, it’s by talking about myself at all. You’re supposed to be objective, supposed to pretend you’re a kind of scientist. Which to me defeats the purpose of reading literature in the first place. I don’t read that way, and I didn’t teach that way.
Q. What does your graduate adviser, the teacher you write about at length in the chapter on Northanger Abbey, think of A Jane Austen Education?
To my enormous sorrow, he didn’t live to see the book completed. One of my deepest hopes was that he would get to read it before it was too latein some sense the whole thing was an homage to himbut I actually ended up learning of his death the day I started writing that chapter. It was quite devastating. My only consolation has been that I’ve been able to share the book with his family and my fellow studentsand also, of course, that I’ve been able to preserve his memory in print.
[Note: That is why the book is codedicated to “the memory of Karl Kroeber.”]
Q. What was the most surprising lesson you learned from reading Austen?
I think the most surprising, and in some ways the most profound, was that my feelings could be wrong. Like everybody else these days, I had absorbed the belief that our feelings have a kind of absolute validity: that we have a “right” to them, whatever that means, that they are “true,” that no one can question them. But Austen believed that reason was more important than feeling, that feelings need to be examined. Put it this way: feelings are always based on perceptionswhat you think someone said or did or whatever. What if those perceptions are wrongaren’t the feelings also wrong? That’s exactly what Elizabeth Bennet learns in her big confrontation with Mr. Darcy, and that’s what I learned by reading about it. And though this lesson has often been humbling, it’s also liberating. I can let go of my feelings when I realize they’re mistaken. I don’t have to insist on having them “validated.”
Q. Austen clearly helped prepare you for marriage. Has she continued to provide guidance for the challenges of married life?
Very much so. The whole way I’ve learned to deal with conflict comes from her. Partly it’s a matter of what I was just talking about. Partly it’s the understanding that if I can manage to bring myself to admit that I’m wrong, as painful and humiliating as it might be, there could be a reward in the end: I could learn something, I could grow, I could become a better person not just for my wife but for myself. Austen also taught me that being a good friend means being honest, as uncomfortable as that often is for both people involved.
And of course, my wife is a huge Jane Austen fan, so that’s something that we love to share.
Q. Was it difficult to present yourself as a selfimportant, narcissistic young man in the book?
Yes! It was excruciating. I’m actually a very private person, believe it or not. Some of the scenes I write about were hard enough simply to revisit on my own, let alone think about sharing with thousands of strangers. Really, I think on a certain level I’m just in denial about it.
Q. Are there any other writers who’ve been similarly instructive for you? What writers are most important to you right now?
Well, no one has come close to Jane Austen, and I don’t think anyone ever can, if only because I read her during a time in my life, the transition to adulthood, that can only happen once. But yes, other writers have been important to me. After finishing my dissertation chapter on Pride and Prejudice, I wrote the next one on Middlemarch, which gave me a whole new perspective on some of the same issuesespecially when it means to grow up. Austen it is about becoming an adult; George Eliot is about being one, with all the disappointment and compromise that inevitably involves.
Right now I’m immersed in a very different group of writers, the New York intellectuals and other Jewish writers from the middle of the last century: Saul Bellow, Alfred Kazin, Lionel Trilling, Bernard Malamud, Leslie Fiedler, Herbert Gold. Now that I’m a fulltime writer, I look to them as my role models and intellectual forebears. Obviously, a very different group of people from Jane Austen and George Eliotfor one thing, they’re all menbut one of the first lessons Austen taught me was not to worry about those sorts of labels.
Q. What are you working on now?
A very different project, though one that ultimately connects to the story I tell in A Jane Austen Education. It’s an expansion of an essay I wrote a few years ago called “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education,” based on my experiences as a professor at Yale as well as my own time as a student at Columbia, about how the whole game of elite college admissions and everything that leads up to it in high school (and follows from it in college) gives kids the wrong idea about what education is for and indeed what life is for. So it’s another book about values and also about education, and like the Jane Austen book, it originated from my own reeducation, from becoming aware of the ways I had been educated wrongly and what I needed to do to live a more fulfilled life.
- How does Deresiewicz overcome his initial disdain for Austen? In what other instances does he have to take a second look at what Austen is saying in order to truly understand her?
- Deresiewicz writes that Austen “knew that our stories are what make us human, and that listening to someone else’s storiesentering into their feelings, validating their experiencesis the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness” (p. 161). Why do storiesboth when we tell them and when we listen to themhave this power to reveal and acknowledge our humanity?
- Deresiewicz writes that, for Austen, “love is not something that happens to you, suddenly or otherwise; it’s something you have to prepare yourself for” (p. 220). What other myths about romantic love do Austen’s novels puncture? How does Austen help Deresiewicz prepare for the woman he will marry?
- In Austen’s view, what is the most important quality one should look for in a mate?
- How is Austen able to offer such wise guidance about love and marriage despite having been unmarried herself? Why did she choose not to marry?
- Is Deresiewicz right when he argues that, in the modern world, community can’t be found in a structure, like a kibbutz or commune, or in the kind of youth movement he experienced as a teenager, but only in “a circle of friends”? (p. 181). What is it about modern life that makes traditional forms of community unworkable? In what ways does Austen anticipate this development in Persuasion?
- In the chapter on Northanger Abbey, what does Deresiewicz learn, both from Jane Austen and from his professor, about being a teacher? How does his approach to teaching change?
- Deresiewicz finds a subtle critique of the aristocracy in Austen’s novels. How do aristocrats typically come off in her books? In what ways are they stunted by wealth and comfort? How does Mansfield Park change his perception of his own circle of wealthy, elegant friends in New York City?
- What are the major aesthetic differences, in Deresiewicz’s view, between Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë? Why does Deresiewicz prefer Austen? Why would he appropriate Brontë’s famous declaration in Jane Eyre“Reader, I married him”to end his own book?
- How has reading A Jane Austen Education changed your understanding or deepened your appreciation of Jane Austen?
A JANE AUSTEN EDUCATION
How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter
The Penguin Press / May 2011
Can you describe your initial resistance, as a young graduate student, to reading Jane Austen?
Like a lot of men, I thought Austen was chick lit: soap-opera romance, fluffy and boring. When a friend of mine heard I was writing this book, he said "I expect a lot of sex and dating advice." It was an understandable assumption, and my friend's, no doubt, was based on all those movies—the ones with the beautiful gowns, and the beautiful homes, and the beautiful actresses. The ones with all the swoony music and the lush, romantic lighting, the ones that leave out everything that Austen had to say to us except the love—and then, don't even get the love part right.
What most surprised you about yourself once you discovered Austen's novels and started examining your own life?
If you had told me, when I was eighteen or twenty or twenty-five, that the most important writer I would ever come across would be Jane Austen, I would have said you were crazy. Why should half a dozen novels about provincial young English ladies, published in the 1810s, make any difference whatsoever to a Jewish kid in New York in the 1990s? But I learned that books aren't written by groups, and they don't belong to groups. They're written by individuals, speaking to individuals, and they belong to anyone who loves them.
What was Austen saying to me? Well, first of all, what an idiot I had been about so many things--about pretty much everything to do with relationships. And that I had so much to learn from seeing things from a woman's point of view. But most of all, finally, I think, that I didn't have to be afraid to learn things about myself--didn't have to be afraid, in other words, to be wrong. Aside from all the specific lessons, I think the largest message was simply that I no longer had to be so armored, so defended, so defensive. And that's made it easier to admit mistakes and be vulnerable and keep on growing.
Is that when you came up with the book's subtitle, "How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter"?
Well, a while ago, I was interviewing for a job as an English professor. At the very end, the head of the hiring committee posed a question that she must have been dying to ask me the whole time. Glancing down at my resume—I had written my doctoral dissertation on The Novel of Community from Austen to Modernism, published a book entitled Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets, and was planning a study called Friendship: A Cultural History from Jane Austen to Jennifer Aniston—she asked, "So what's with you and Jane Austen?"
I wanted to give [the dean] her a good answer. But how do you explain your deepest attachments? I tried to muster an intellectually sophisticated response, something about the purity of Austen's prose or the brilliance of her satire, but it didn't feel right, and besides, I'd already given enough answers like that. Finally, I just blurted something that I'd already been telling myself for a long time. "Well," I said, "sometimes I feel like everything I know about life I learned by reading Jane Austen."
What drew you to write this hybrid of memoir and literary criticism?
I've been writing about literature for a general audience for a long time, as a book critic. Actually, the fact that I was more interested in doing that than in pursuing scholarly work is the reason I decided to leave academia. The memoir part is new for me, though, and it's been an interesting challenge: a technical challenge to blend the two and a personal challenge to be so candid in such a public way. The second part is a little frightening. As for why I decided to write the book this way, well, the idea was to convey the lessons I learned by reading Jane Austen, and I realized pretty quickly that the best way to do that would be to actually talk about how I learned them, not just explain them in some kind of abstract and impersonal way.
What do you think her books have to say to contemporary men and women in want of a relationship?
Ha! Great question. The first thing I think she would say is, don't settle. Then, marry for the right reasons: for love, not for money or appearances or expectations. But most importantly--and this is what I talk about in the love chapter, the last chapter--don't fall for all the romantic clichés about Romeo and Juliet and love at first sight. For Austen, love came from the mind as well as the heart. She didn't believe you could fall in love with someone until you knew them, and then what you fell in love with was their character more than anything else--whether they were a good person and also an interesting one. So I guess that means, date someone for a while before you commit, and don't get so carried away by your feelings that you forget to give a good hard look at who they are. As for sex, it's not so clear she would have disapproved of sleeping together before marriage. I think she maybe even would've liked it, as a chance to learn something very important before it's too late.
What do you hope your book will bring to people who aren't already Austen fans?
Well, first of all, if they aren't already Austen fans because they have the kinds of preconceptions I did, I hope it helps persuade them to give her a chance. I've imagined the book, in part, as a kind of introduction to her [books] novels. It's not exhaustive or anything--and I think that people who are already Austen fans will find new ways to think about her novels--but it does lay out the basic situations in each book and some of the most important ideas she was getting at. No spoilers, just enough to whet people's appetites. And finally, of course, I want people to see that she isn't just for women. I would love it if the book helped introduce more guys to her work.
What is your favorite Austen novel?
I knew people would ask me this. The weaseling answer is that I love them all, though it's also true. Certainly whenever I'm reading one, that's my favorite. But if I had to pick just one, desert-island style, it would have to be Emma. Not just because it was my first and will always have a special place in my heart, but because I really do think it's the best, the one where she put it all together: the brilliant sparkle of Pride and Prejudice, the emotional depth of Persuasion, the fun, the humor, the superhuman cleverness. There really is nothing else like it.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I don't normally review memoirs. They just don't appeal to me, and I have a hard time being "captured" by the memoirs. However, there are rare occasions, such as this one, that I find I become engrossed in the life of the author, and I find myself finished with the book before I ever really got started! Those are the kinds of memoirs I enjoy...the ones that really capture and aren't too boring, yet aren't over the top. A Jane Austen Education is one such memoir, and I am pleased to have had the chance to review it! There are some folks out there who may think about buying this book because of Austen alone. She is a great story teller of all time, and I truly enjoy her work. But this isn't strictly about Austen. Yes, it's about Austen but it's not ABOUT Austen. Deresiewicz is a man who creates this enjoyable memoir about his life after reading 6 of Austen's novels. He was a man who laughed at Jane Austen's work. A man who takes each chapter, breaks them down by specific books of Austen, and tells of how each book changed his life in some form or other. Through each chapter, Deresiewicz tells of the meaning of each of these "romantic" novels, as they have so often been dubbed. After reading the novels, he was able to see through "romance" to the meaning and life lessons among each one. He took those messages/lessons and filed them away, learning from them and seeing what would make his life different....make his life better. This is a four star memoir that I highly recommend you read. If you are an Austen fan, then take a moment or two to read this novel. You will see her stories in a whole new light! High praises to the author of this enjoyable memoir.
I loved this book already being an self-professed Austenite. I think it is though very useful and enjoyable to get a masculine perspective on Austen. I enjoyed Mr. Deresiewicz's narrative and perspective. I do highly recommend it!!
For all Jane fans!
Mr. Deresiewicz gives an intelligent summary of the life lessons in Jane Austen's novels that are useful for anyone looking to further enhance their already fine character: choose wisdom over wit, love with your head AND your heart, and most of all strive for kindness and usefulness.
This was a truly delightful book! Mr. Deresiewicz's observations of each Jane Austen novel were interesting and the way he tied his understanding of each novel into the personal story of his own emotional growth was an effective way of pulling me into the book and of making Ms. Austen's novel relevant in a modern world (not that I needed any convincing on that score)! For Ms. Austen fans this is a book worth reading and savoring.
A memoir need not be completely truthful for me to enjoy it, but it does have to offer some insight into a life that I would not otherwise have been afforded. Lies themselves can often offer that insight. One point with which I agree in A Jane Austen Education is that sharing personal stories can be a gift to others, a sign of trust, a peek into an extended view of humanity. The share need not be large. Tell me about your crazy dream life or what you wanted to be as a child. Just don't manipulate your rather ordinary rites of passage through life to correspond with your reading schedule through Jane Austen. It will not sit well with me.Former literature professor, William Deresiewicz, breaks his memoir into seven sections - one for each of Jane Austen's novels plus a conclusion. The premise is that he learned an important life lesson from each of Austen's novels at just the right time in his life. The portions that discuss just Austen's books were of some interest to me, but without much depth or anything I did not already know about Austen. Just a pleasant reminder of why Austen still sits atop the canon despite an occasionally underestimated simplicity to her work. But the rest of the book annoyed me. More than a little in parts.Is a man reading Austen such a rarity that we celebrate it in entire books? Does an appreciation of modernism automatically exclude an appreciation of Austen? Are life lessons like "Pay attention to the everyday things" and "Be honest with your friends" only learned through Austen? The author would have come around to these things eventually with or without her. We can only hope. This book strikes me as an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Austen, and as obvious pandering to legions of her fans. Nicely packaged, well-written, but perhaps he should have utilized his obviously extensive knowledge of Jane to better end.
A nice hybrid of memoir and literary criticism that describes how a young man reaches self-awareness and maturity while (not necessarily through, or at least not entirely) reading the works of Jane Austen. I liked the literary analysis better than the memoir part, if only because each life lesson or value taught by the six different novels felt a bit pat. And I would have to disagree on friendship being the primary importance of "Persuasion," my favorite Austen -- how about constancy? But these are quibbles, it was an enjoyable and quick read and it made me realize how, for far too long, my Austen intake has been all on screen. It's long past time to revisit the original works.
This is a light, academic/memoir type read about how one young man went from scoffing at Jane Austen to loving her, and how each of her books taught him something about how to understand and improve his own life. Deresiewicz combines just the right amount of personal narrative, Austen lore, and literary criticism to make this book appropriate for both the serious Austen-ite and someone who is simply passingly curious. The order in which he chooses to discuss each of Austen's books is interesting, and the parallels he draws to his own life are insightful and touching (even if they do seem a bit forced at times.) I believe that Austen, like Shakespeare, writes about timeless issues, and will never cease to be relevant; Deresiewicz obviously agrees, and succeeds admirably at proving this in his book.
I don't normally review memoirs. They just don't appeal to me, and I have a hard time being "captured" by the memoirs. However, there are rare occasions, such as this one, that I find I become engrossed in the life of the author, and I find myself finished with the book before I ever really got started! Those are the kinds of memoirs I enjoy...the ones that really capture and aren't too boring, yet aren't over the top. A Jane Austen Education is one such memoir, and I am pleased to have had the chance to review it! There are some folks out there who may think about buying this book because of Austen alone. She is a great story teller of all time, and I truly enjoy her work. But this isn't strictly about Austen. Yes, it's about Austen but it's not ABOUT Austen. Deresiewicz is a man who creates this enjoyable memoir about his life after reading 6 of Austen's novels. He was a man who laughed at Jane Austen's work. A man who takes each chapter, breaks them down by specific books of Austen, and tells of how each book changed his life in some form or other.Through each chapter, Deresiewicz tells of the meaning of each of these "romantic" novels, as they have so often been dubbed. After reading the novels, he was able to see through "romance" to the meaning and life lessons among each one. He took those messages/lessons and filed them away, learning from them and seeing what would make his life different....make his life better. This is a four star memoir that I highly recommend you read. If you are an Austen fan, then take a moment or two to read this novel. You will see her stories in a whole new light! High praises to the author of this enjoyable memoir.
A man? Writing about Jane Austen? Really?Those were the first thoughts through my head when I took this book out of the shipping envelope it came in. Then I remembered why I requested it - because I loved the cover and for that cover alone I was willing to give it a shot.And as I began reading I began to really understand just why it's a bit significant that a man wrote this book.If you are anything like me, you've attempted to get at least one boyfriend to read Jane Austen. And then you have heard them scoff at the suggestion. William Deresiewicz did the same - he thought of Jane Austen as inane, dull, she just didn't match up to the other great writers. He had pretentious thoughts based on his reading of Russian literature, of James Joyce and more. And then he was faced with the prospect of reading Emma.And so his love of Jane Austen began - but not at first. Oh no, first he needed to be taught a lesson, he needed to learn that life is to be enjoyed for the little things that happen every day and for the relationships we form about us. This is just the first lesson.This book wasn't so much a memoir of Deresiewicz's life as much as a lecture on Austen, I felt. And I enjoyed it for being just that. I found it smartly written, thought-provoking and filled with new insights (at least for me) on Austen's works. I really enjoyed my time reading this book and plan to recommend it!
This is a decent, if not very profound, look at the impact of Jane Austen¿s novels on one man. It¿s kind of a memoir, kind of a literary analysis. I appreciated some of his insights into the texts, but the sections where he connected his analysis back to his own life were often clunky and riddled with cliché. It¿s an interesting premise for a book ¿ especially having a male perspective on an author and novels usually more identified with women, but the superficiality and rather banal conclusions ended up making it more of a boring read than anything else. Eh.
The subtitle of this book is "How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter." William Deresiewicz is a testament to how reading can change your life. Having read "Emma" as an assignment, he begins to learn that Jane Austen has a lot to say about the best ways to find love while just living your life. He takes six novels of Austen, and spends each chapter discussing one book and how it related to his life at that particular time. I found it absolutely fascinating. I felt an undercurrent throughout the book that "Everything has a happy ending if you only follow the steps" that I found mildly irritating, but that is probably based on my own prejudices, and doesn't make his insights any less interesting.
Really enjoyed reading this book. It is a new perspective on Jane Austen that I had never fully understood until now. Very interesting, hard to put down.
To any and ALL Jane Austen fans out there, read this, "A Jane Austen Education: how six novels taught me about love, friendship, and the things that really matter" by William Deresiewicz. Seriously. I'm in the SAME giddy raptures of delight that I get into after watching an Austen adaptation, and this is only a memoir about how six novels changed a man's life. Now, more than ever, I'm determined to wait, not for the man who "completes me", but the one who, by God's grace and divine awesome love, stretches and grows me while letting me stretch and grow him as we grow together in God. I'm quite happy to wait for my Darcy and my Wentworth, my Edward and my Mr. Knightley. This memoir follows a man as he writes his dissertation on community in nineteenth-century England. He took a class in college on English lit and was blessed to have one of those great professors who teach not to teach, but to be taught. William Deresiewicz, the author, was totally not into Jane Austen- "Why do we have to read some sappy Romantic author? Are you kidding me? Let's read Dostoevsky instead!"- but realized as he read Emma, that neither was Jane Austen. She strove to be separate from her Romantic peers, and instead write about community, friendship, affection, and lastly true love. Austen laughed at the people (her characters) who "fell into love", writing them as being the biggest fools of all. Deresiewicz uses each of Austen's six novels to explain some part of society--explanations that apply to our modern world as well--and to show how the brilliant, honest thoughts of Austen changed his life. This book is well written, with humor, meaning, and connection, and expands each Austen story in a way that I never would have done on my own. (Though, to be fair, I haven't read all six novels, and the two I have read were a few years ago. Just like for Austen's beloved characters, growing up changes things.) It's a rare book that can change a person's viewpoint, and I can say that I will not be about to watch an Austen adaptation--or read her books--the same way ever again. Heck, even if you're not actually a fan of Austen at the moment, read this, and you just might end up being one. There are worse things.