Quick Take: English Lit grad student William has made a mess of his life. Fortunately he has the wisdom of the Jane Austen’s six novels to set him straight. He chronicles his time reading each novel and the lesson he takes from them.
My Thoughts: I started skimming this in the library. I thought, “oh, I’ve read Jane Austen, this book is probably better for someone who hasn’t.” But as I flipped through the first chapter, I really wanted to keep reading. Aside from a lull in the Mansfield Park chapter (I’m still not a fan), I eagerly and quickly read it. One of the things I love about timeless books is that as you grow and change, you can read the same book and take something new from it. Additionally, if you read a book for a class, the professor may emphasize certain aspects of the book while a different teacher would play up different elements. For example, while we didn’t get to it, my British Writers professor assigned Northanger Abbey to show the mockery of gothic literature. Deresiewicz read it as a lesson in learning and growing. A Jane Austen Education has given me another perspective from which to read Austen. Herewith are Deresiewicz’s Austen Lessons:
- Emma–Life is in the details, not the grand events. “To pay attention to the ‘minute particulars’ is to notice your life as it passes, before it passes” (31).
- Pride & Prejudice–Growing up means making mistakes, and feeling those mistakes, “for it is never enough to know that you have done wrong: you also have to feel it” (60).
- Northanger Abbey–Ask questions not for the answer, but for the sake of asking questions. Discard certainty and cynicism for “by waking up to the world…she turned her life into an adventure that would never end” (116).
- Mansfield Park—Being entertained is not the same as being happy. In fact, those who are most entertaining may be least likely to make us happy.
- Persuasion—Being happy and feeling good about yourself are not the same things. A true friend wants you to be happy, and will point out your mistakes, even if it doesn’t feel good.
- Sense & Sensibility—Love is about growing up. We should seek to grow into love, not fall in love. “If your lover is already just like you, then neither of you has anywhere to go” (237).
If you are an Austen fan, or are at all intrigued by this brief list, I urge you to read A Jane Austen Education. As noted from Emma, life is in the details, so please immerse yourself in the details of the book. I downgraded from an A- because I didn’t always relate to Deresiewicz, so his approach and his lessons from the novels didn’t always resonate as strongly as I think he intended. It’s still a good read, especially for Austen fans, and it has inspired me to do a further exploration of my own Jane Austen education.