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A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship,… (2011)

by William Deresiewicz

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5884531,407 (3.78)1 / 45
Austen scholar Deresiewicz turns to the author's novels to reveal the remarkable life lessons hidden within. With humor and candor, Deresiewicz employs his own experiences to demonstrate the enduring power of Austen's teachings.
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Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
This book starts out with one of the oddest openers for a book about Jane Austen — “I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six-year-old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life. That she’d been dead for a couple of hundred years made not the slightest difference whatsoever” (1). The words themselves are not terribly surprising, but the fact that a man wrote them is. And indeed, in the following pages, Deresiewicz himself confesses to an initial bias against Austen, eschewing her as a writer of “silly romantic fairy tales,” and grudgingly reading “Emma” for a class while pursuing a graduate degree in English. He finds the story and its characters dull and boring, then discovers to his surprise that the narrator, the title character, agrees with his assessment of her situation. Examining some of his own preconceived ideas of Austen’s works, he compares it to numerous historical and modern critiques of her writing. Deresiewicz continues chronologically through his graduate student years, aligning the stories of his life with episodes and lessons from Austen’s works, each of the major six novels.

It is rather unusual to see a man writing about his love of Austen’s works, but that is no reason to shun this particular work. Both a memoir and an exploration of fiction, I found this to be pleasant and easy to read; certainly lighter than the previously reviewed memoir involving Laura Ingalls Wilder’s works. Deresiewicz does try a little too hard to connect real life to fiction in some chapters, drawing out some conclusions which are merely conjectures. Still, worth a read, if nothing more than for the aforementioned oddity of a man delving so deeply and personally into Austenian fiction. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
William Deresiewicz is shocked to learn that the descriptions by Jane Austen are of him and the people around him. From each of the books he learned something. I wonder if the order in the book is the order he learned them.

Chapter 1: emma: everyday matters
Stop and smell the roses - everyday life matters.

Chapter 2: pride and prejudice: growing up
When we are totally humiliated is when we learn how wrong we were - it is when we change.

Chapter 3: northanger abbey: learning to learn
(The professor asked questioned that) "seemed absurdly simple - silly, really, almost stupid, too basic and obvious to ask a class of resident, let alone a graduate seminar."
" But when we tried to answer them, we discovered that they were not simple in the least. They were profound because they were about all the things we had come to take for granted - " (Page 79)
"Feelings are also the primary way we know about novels -- which, after all, are training grounds for responding to the world," (Page 99)
"...in graduate school...you end up ...with a very elaborate theory that bears no relationship to what's actually going on in front of you. (Page 102-103)

Chapter 4: Mansfield park: being good
Speaking of the people the author knew, he said: Many rich kids "were chronically aimless, and some were downright miserable, psychologically crushed by the fact that nothing was ever going to be expected of them." (Page 147)
"People's stories are the most personal thing they have, and paying attention to those stories is just about the most important thing you can do for them." (Page 163)

Chapter 5: persuasion: true friends
"True friendship, like true love, was pretty rare in Austen's view." (Page 192)

Chapter 6: sense and sensibility: falling in love
Love at first sight makes great fiction, but is not enough to make an enduring relationship.

Chapter 7: the end of the story
The end of this story. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
I may try it again at a t later date but I kept nodding off so I decided to move on to something else.
  TheaIsaacs | Apr 21, 2020 |
This author immediately confesses his dislike for Austen and his avoidance of her books. Then in graduate school he has to read Austen and finds, it's not the light fluffy chick lit he assumed. That in fact, there's a lot more to Austen's books than first meets the eye, or even the first read.
The author is a self-proclaimed jerk and at first, I didn't think I'd like this book. However, the author matures and grows and shows his weaknesses and explains how each book taught him something about himself and something about life.

It would have been better had the author left out the profanity, but it is a good book, and recommended. ( )
  VhartPowers | Dec 27, 2018 |
I liked the accessibility of the author's writing style. Too often I'm bored or annoyed by literary criticism in any form because of how pompous the author comes across. I still believe that true literature is meant to be enjoyed by everybody, and I despise people putting books out of the reach of some by being too cerebral. Deresiewicz, however, doesn't do that. And I have to admit it was good to hear of a man enjoying Jane Austen. ( )
  gossamerchild88 | Mar 30, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
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To Jill,

and to the memory of Karl Kroeber
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I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six-year-old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life.
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Austen scholar Deresiewicz turns to the author's novels to reveal the remarkable life lessons hidden within. With humor and candor, Deresiewicz employs his own experiences to demonstrate the enduring power of Austen's teachings.

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CONTENTS: Emma: everyday matters -- Pride and prejudice: growing up -- Northanger Abbey: learning to learn -- Mansfield Park: being good -- Persuasion: true friends -- Sense and sensibility: falling in love -- The end of the story.

In A Jane Austen Education, Austen scholar William Deresiewicz turns to the author's novels to reveal the remarkable life lessons hidden within. With humor and candor, Deresiewicz employs his own experiences to demonstrate the enduring power of Austen's teachings. Progressing from his days as an immature student to a happily married man, Deresiewicz's A Jane Austen Education is the story of one man's discovery of the world outside himself. 

A self-styled intellectual rebel dedicated to writers such as James Joyce and Joseph Conrad, Deresiewicz never thought Austen's novels would have anything to offer him. But when he was assigned to read Emma as a graduate student at Columbia, something extraordinary happened. Austen's devotion to the everyday, and her belief in the value of ordinary lives, ignited something in Deresiewicz. He began viewing the world through Austen's eyes and treating those around him as generously as Austen treated her characters. Along the way, Deresiewicz was amazed to discover that the people in his life developed the depth and richness of literary characters-that his own life had suddenly acquired all the fascination of a novel. His real education had finally begun. 

Weaving his own story-and Austen's-around the ones her novels tell, Deresiewicz shows how her books are both about education and themselves an education. Her heroines learn about friendship and feeling, staying young and being good, and, of course, love. As they grow up, they learn lessons that are imparted to Austen's reader, who learns and grows by their sides. 

A Jane Austen Education is a testament to the transformative power of literature, a celebration of Austen's mastery, and a joy to read. Whether for a newcomer to Austen or a lifelong devotee, Deresiewicz brings fresh insights to the novelist and her beloved works. Ultimately, Austen's world becomes indelibly entwined with our own, showing the relevance of her message and the triumph of her vision.  [Book description retrieved from Amazon 11/13/11]
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