It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in pursual of a Ph.D. in English Literature must be more interested in Joyce, Conrad, Faulkner, and Nabokov than in 19th century British literature.
And such a man is William. Give him Madame Bovary, give him On the Road, but please don’t give him Jane Austen.
Things are supposed to happen in stories. But here comes Emma and page after page of nothing but boring people and their incessant prattle. When is the author going to get to the point?
William, like many before him, underestimates Jane Austen in a huge way. So suddenly do her lessons sneak up on him that they’re like the proverbial lightning bolt, shocking him into understanding and action. William Deresiewicz is about to become Miss Austen’s (next) biggest fan.
The book is separated into six main sections, one for each of Austen’s novels. Deresiewicz leads the reader through each book, analyzing plot and characters and uncovering the lessons Austen cleverly embedded in each. The author also includes a bit of history on Jane herself, as well as how her life and personality mirrored those of her characters.
I’ve always appreciated Austen’s works (even though I didn’t exactly enjoy Persuasion), but it took reading Deresiewicz’s to understand why — from “Growing up” to “Learning to learn” to “True friends” to “Falling in love,” her lessons are critical and universal.
They’re the lessons Disney can’t manage to teach, gentle reminders that “without a hurt, the heart is hollow,” and “we all have to die a little, so we can grow again.”
The readers learns these lessons at the same time as Deresiewicz, and it’s interesting to see where those lessons take him. A Jane Austen Education chronicles Deresiewicz’s journey from hipster pseudo-intellectual to actual human being.
I loved every second of it.
I read A Jane Austen Education as part of Non-fiction November. Click the image to see posts from this and previous years!