Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter, William Deresiewicz

I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six-year-old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life. That's she'd been dead for a couple of hundred years made not the slightest difference whatsoever. Her name was Jane Austen, and she would teach me everything I know about everything that matters.

A Jane Austen Education is an interesting memoir of how Jane Austen's six novels changed one idiotic grad student's life. "Before Jane Austen, William Deresiewicz was a very different young man. A sullen and arrogant graduate student, he never thought Austen would have anything to offer him. Then he read Emma—and everything changed. In this unique and lyrical book, Deresiewicz weaves the misadventures of Austen’s characters with his own youthful follies, demonstrating the power of the great novelist’s teachings—and how, for Austen, growing up and making mistakes are one and the same. Honest, erudite, and deeply moving, A Jane Austen Education is the story of one man’s discovery of the world outside himself." 

My favorite thing about this book was definitely just the concept. I loved that a man would be willing to admit that Jane Austen's work, often regarded by many as silly and girly, had some worth; in fact, a lot of worth. In fact, they changed his life, and he wrote a book about it.

Some of his points weren't the most interesting, and I didn't LOVE this book, but I did like it. There are seven chapters: Emma: Everday Matters, Pride and Prejudice: Growing Up, Northanger Abbey: Learning to Learn, Mansfield Park: Being Good, Persuasion: True Friends, Sense and Sensibility: Falling in Love, and the final, concluding chapter, The End of the Story.

Some of the details about Deresiewicz's own life were uninteresting, but I did like his analysis of Austen's novels. I tend to read them for pleasure, rather than advice, but they clearly greatly influenced him. In the chapter on Pride and Prejudice, he was talking about some grad students choosing P&P, others choosing Jane Eyre, and fighting over it. But I love both of these novels. Jane Eyre is gothic and overly romantic, but almost as entertaining as Pride and Prejudice. And certainly, P&P is full of passion too, just a bit less unrestrained and wild.

My favorite chapter was probably the one on Northanger Abbey; it motivated me to perhaps reread it soon. Like Deresiewicz, I liked its "playfulness and youthful charm", but didn't pay a lot of attention to it. The points Deresiewicz (how do you even pronounce that?) offers are good to keep in mind when reading Austen's work. I definitely will.

Also, happy 200th birthday + 1 day to Pride and Prejudice!

Read A Jane Austen Education:
  • if you like Jane Austen and are interested in some analysis
  • if you like memoirs
  • if you like literature
255 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

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