A Jane Austen Education

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter
William Deresiewicz
Penguin, 2011

This one caught my attention for several reasons: the quirky cover, the title, and the fact a guy was writing about Jane Austen changing his life. Let's face it people: how can you not pick up a book like that?

The book is broken into chapters that focus on a specific Jane Austen novel and the 'lesson learned' from the reading of each. Additionally, it's fairly chronological (not in order of Austen novels read per say, but in the following of the author from obnoxious first-year graduate student to enlightened PhD-holder. This is a format that works, and works well. Not only because it prevents a lot of time-jumping (which can be exceptionally confusing), but because by looking at the novels individually, and their lessons applied during the specific times/contexts, it helps create a fuller picture of how Jane Austen can be a revolutionary educator. The only minor problem I had with the format was that, since chapters are limited to/aligned with the novels, they can get a little lengthy - this is a personal issue, since I hate putting a book down mid-chapter if I can help it, and not a general technical problem.

What I loved, and I mean loved, about A Jane Austen Education is that Deresiewicz really captured what it is that makes Austen so, well - Austen. He breaks it down, and looks at her writing - what she wrote, what she didn't write - and captures quite nicely what it is about her novels that we still love so much two hundred years after the fact. It's not a literary critique, but it's clear he is a scholar and student of Literature. It's not a personal response essay, but it's obvious that Jane Austen has personal meaning. If, in places, it feels a little over-wordy, it's an interesting contrast to the simplicity of Austen's own language. 

I'm not entirely sure what I expected going into it, but I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I liked taking a closer look at Jane Austen, exploring why she is so influential, what the magnetic draw she has over us, and - maybe most of all - seeing the actual way that Jane Austen can shape a person. Even, gasp!, a guy. For the Janeites reading this, I think you'll enjoy it; and for any non-Janeites, well, maybe this will help you understand our passion.

Book provided by my local library.

1 comment:

  1. Having just started re-reading Austen with my daughter, this book sounds intriguing. I know I loved her books, and I'm enjoying watching my daughter discover them. But it's interesting to have someone put into words why the books are so well-loved, and then to agree/disagree with their thoughts.