As I was strolling through my favorite section of the bookstore (the classics), I came upon this little book. Two things immediately stuck out: 1) Jane Austen, and 2) the author is a male. Since making my public declaration that I’m a huge Janeite, I’ve wondered if I stood alone among my gender. In his memoir, A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter, William Deresiewicz discusses the process that led to his conversion to Jane’s life lessons. Finally, I am no longer alone in the universe! There are other male Austen fans out there! This was a great read, as Deresiewicz has created a very accessible work that looks at important truths discovered through his readings of Jane Austen.
While in college, Deresiewicz is assigned Emma, a novel he immediately despises. He finds it boring and doesn’t get the point of all the neighborhood gossip and card parties. When he begins to identify with the heroine and her disdain towards others, he gets a wake-up call. Emma’s attitude towards others mirrors his own, and her own lesson on humility is immediately adopted by him. Through reading about the trivial every day matters, Deresiewicz realizes that little things are what make life so important in the first place.
Each chapter focuses on one particular novel by Austen and the lesson learned. By reading Pride and Prejudice, Deresiewicz learns that growing up is a never-ending process. Through Northanger Abbey, he recognizes the importance of learning to learn. At this point in his life, Deresiewicz has started teaching. He realizes that his students have just as much to teach him as he does them. Mansfield Park teaches us that the be truly helpful to others, we have to actually listen to them. Persuasion demonstrates the importance of building a community of friends, while Sense and Sensibility shows what the true definition of that huge concept called love is really all about.
Deresiewicz seamlessly blends Austen’s prose with excerpts from his own life. It is great to see his transformation from a stuck up know-it-all to someone who values his connections to others. Through his readings, Deresiewicz goes through several trials: distancing himself from an overbearing father, searching for true love, and resisting the temptations of the rich. His interpretations of Austen provides him with a successful blueprint to navigate the murky waters of life. Ms. Jane becomes a constant companion through both his triumphs and his failures in life. The result is not only a more well-rounded human being, but definitely an author that I would read again.
One of my goals for this little blogging project of mine is to develop myself as a person. Through reading classic literature as well as choosing titles from the 1001 list, I hope to see why older works hold so much value in our world. through Deresiewicz, I found a kindred spirit. As I continue to read Jane Austen, I will definitely look with greater scrutiny as I apply her works to my own little life.
“Austen, I realized, had not been writing about everyday things because she couldn’t think of anything else to talk about. She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are.”