#61 A Review of A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

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People who have never read Jane Austen often wonder what we “Janeites” find so special about her works.  Besides having incredible characters and amazing plot lines they teach us lessons about ourselves, life, love, and family.  Deresiewicz takes each novel one by one and tells us what lesson he learned from them, and how it helped him mature into the man he is today. 

William Deresiewicz was a much different person before he read Emma.  He was arrogant, and felt like an outsider.  What could Jane Austen possibly tell him about life that he didn’t already know?  Apparently, it was a lot.  The first of Austen’s works that he read, Emma, taught him to pay attention to the small things in life.  What you had for breakfast yesterday, a story that your co-worker told today, etc.  These are the things that make up our lives, and once we wake up to them we can appreciate the richness of our life.  In Mansfield Park, Deresiewicz learned that just because you’re entertained, that doesn’t always mean that you’re happy.  In short, money can buy a lot of things, including entertainment, but as we always hear it doesn’t buy happiness.  Persuasion proved that honesty is the best trait in friendship.  Passive acceptance doesn’t make a friendship stronger, it can tear it apart.  Pride and Prejudice (my fav of course) showed him that too err is to be human.  In essence, we have an entire life ahead of us to make mistakes and learn from them.  If we all move through life without making any mistakes, there would be no way to learn from life experiences.  It is these messages and more that Deresiewicz reveals in A Jane Austen Education

The book is written in an eloquent manner that really expresses Deresiewicz’s affection for Austen and her works.  This book is essentially a tribute to how life-changing Austen’s works can be for those who read it.  As someone who has read all of Jane’s novels I can truly attest to the strength of the lessons in her novels.  She finds a way to satirize social norms and lets us know it’s ok to be different.  Deresiewicz is just one of the army of us out there that have had our lives changed by these six novels.  His personal examples told as evidence of his change only strengthen the message and purpose of the book.

I’d also like to give props to whoever designed this cover.  The book jacket is one of my favorites that I’ve ever seen and was the second reason I wanted to buy this book (Jane obviously being reason number one).  In closing, this book has the ability to speak to anyone out there looking for help in learning life’s little lessons.  Even if you’ve never read a novel by Austen prior to reading this, you will still understand everything Deresiewicz lays out.  His eloquent style and relatable examples make this a must for everyone, regardless of your literary taste, sex, or age. 

5 out of 5 Stars

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
Penguin Group (2011)
Hardcover 272 pages

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