Thursday, May 24, 2012

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

book coverA Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter
William Deresiewicz

As a young graduate student, William Deresiewicz believed he knew it all. He certainly didn’t think that a 19th century female novelist writing primarily about relationships, family, and community had anything to teach him. However, as Deresiewicz immerses himself in the world of Austen he realizes that he does, in fact, have a lot to learn.

Deresiweicz is unflinchingly honest about his shortcomings and bravely turns the spotlight on himself as an arrogant and generally unpleasant young man. He takes the reader along as he begins his graduate studies, gets his first real apartment, learns to navigate friendships, and finally finds true love. Each chapter is devoted to a different Jane Austen novel and how that particular novel helped him through a challenging time of life.

Even though Deresiweicz holds a Ph.D. in literature and devoted a portion of his dissertation to Jane Austen, A Jane Austen Education is not a scholarly or a difficult read. The writing is friendly, funny at times, and always highly accessible; even for readers who have not committed all six Austen novels to memory. Beware that the plots of all the novels are discussed in detail and the endings revealed. If you haven’t read all of the novels and if spoilers bother you, you might want to save this until you’ve finished Austen’s works.

A Jane Austen Education is part memoir and part literary criticism. I enjoyed reading about Deresiewicz’s life and gradual maturation. I also enjoyed his perspective on Austen and how he was able, albeit reluctantly at first, to glean simple yet relevant lessons from her novels.

M.B. Newbill
Southern History Department
Central Branch

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