Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Jane Austen Education

As I have previously written, I am greatly appreciative of the works of Jane Austen.  So when reading reviews of A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz I was intrigued.  I read it this weekend and could not put it down.  In a light, humorous, and self-effacing manner, Deresiewicz describes himself at the age of 26 embarking on a grad school program in literature.  Required to take a class on 19th century British Literature, he is appalled at the fact that he will be required to read a novel by Jane Austen, Emma.  His perception of Austen's novels were that they were light, fluffy stories about women and romance, more like "chick-lit," not serious "Literature."

By the end of the novel, Deresiewicz realizes that Austen is indeed a genius.  Her stories are in fact about so much more than the small-town gossip he had originally thought, and teach us about friendship, goodness, and the importance of everyday life.  Of Austen, writing Emma he says, "She understood that what fills our days should fill our hearts, and what fills our hearts should fill our novels."

Deresiewicz examines each novel, and explains what they taught him about his own life.  Honest about his own shortcomings, he is able to apply the lesson of the novels to help him see how he can change, moving from a sarcastic know-it-all to a good friend, and ultimately husband.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading his insights from the novels, and while I maybe don't get the same things from Austen that he did, I love hearing how others have been influenced by her work, and it was enjoyable seeing an old friend in a new light.

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