Friday, May 20, 2011

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


When Ken first mentioned this book to me, I admit I was a bit indignant. Being just in the middle of reading all six of Jane Austen's novels, and thoroughly enjoying the experience, I thought, "I am getting so much out of these books, do I really need to read what some other random person got out of them?"

To my surprise, my cousin Shan mailed me this book a couple days after I finished Northanger Abbey, the last of her novels that I read. I was just starting to feel a bit of Jane Austen withdrawal, and now having the book in hand, I jumped at the chance to read it. (Thank you, Shan!)

I was immediately impressed upon realizing that the author is a man! Throughout all my readings, I totally pigeon-holed Jane Austen as the chick lit of the classics, what with her topics of love and friendship and relationships in general, her study of human nature, personal growth, and character. Approaching the book from a man's point of view would certainly give me a fresh perspective on the novels.

Secondly, the author turned out to be not a completely random person, but a former professor of English with a PhD in literature. So, he could offer legitimate literary analyses of the books, which I had not attempted myself.

Overall, this book is a quick and pleasant read. It is an excellent companion to the novels. I would suggest, however, that you should first read all six novels yourself before reading this book. Even though the author tries not to give away the endings, he does reveal quite a bit about characters and plot development. Also, because he frequently makes passing mention of characters from all the books no matter what book he is focused on at the time, I think readers would be better able to appreciate the author's discussion if they, too, were familiar with all the characters.

I especially liked that the author provided bits and pieces about Jane Austen herself. He even included several excerpts from her letters, and filled in the major details of her life. In fact, before reading this book, I was thinking of reading a Jane Austen biography, but now I think my curiosity on that front might already be satisfied!

He even made a small mention of some of the screen adaptations, which I also particularly liked because seeing all of them (and I mean all of them!) is also part of my own personal Jane Austen Project.

The only drawback, I think, is that the author seems to stretch a bit when he tried to relate the lessons of Jane Austen to his own life. The memoir portions are kind of quaint, and I can't fault him for trying, since his learning applicable life lessons from Jane Austen was basically the whole premise of the book. Also, since he focuses on the lessons he learned, I feel like he left out quite a bit about lessons that other people might be able to learn from Jane Austen.

All said, I think any Jane Austen fan would find this book enjoyable. If nothing else, it serves to praise Jane Austen and her works.

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