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

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

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by William Deresiewicz
     
 

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An eloquent memoir of a young man's life transformed by literature.

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

Overview

An eloquent memoir of a young man's life transformed by literature.

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.

Editorial Reviews

Former Yale professor William Deresiewicz has been reading, teaching, and writing about Jane Austen for decades; now, at the conclusion of his academic career, he describes his almost lifelong personal encounter with an author whose insights transcend those revealed by mere scholarship. A Jane Austen Education illuminates the novelist's craft by showing how her mastery of everyday relationships still speaks to our times. Deresiewicz's unconventional memoir helps explain Austen's extraordinary appeal among readers otherwise immune to classic literature.

Associated Press
"A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter" (Penguin), by William Deresiewicz: There's nothing quite like meeting another admirer of your favorite author, finding in that person a similar vigor for the close reading of that author's works, and sharing the memories you have of what it was like when you first encountered them. Such is the experience for me of reading William Deresiewicz's "A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter." I finished the book with two strong impulses: One, to immediately reread everything Jane Austen wrote, with Deresiewicz's book at my side, and two, to invite Deresiewicz — a former Yale University English professor and now a professional literary critic — over for more Austen talk. Each chapter of his book takes on one of Austen's novels and situates them contextually within various stages of his progression toward adulthood, intertwining his story with hers. He writes with wit, charm and candor, and the result is simply delightful. It starts with Deresiewicz as a 26-year-old self-styled arrogant rebel walking around "in a cloud of angry sarcasm." And then he's forced to read "Emma" for a graduate school seminar and — I say this without a trace of hyperbole — his entire view of the world starts to change. Suddenly a book that doesn't appear to be about anything important turns into a book about the only things in life that do matter — the small, everyday occurrences that shape us. Likewise, "Pride and Prejudice" becomes a story about growing up and learning the necessity of tempering our feelings with reason, and of learning from our mistakes. The wealthy, breezy Crawfords of "Mansfield Park" are likened to Manhattan's social elite whom Deresiewicz found himself amid, with both groups ultimately displaying a cripplingly narrow mindset fueled by an utter lack of curiosity. "Persuasion" is a story foremost about friendship, which Deresiewicz relates to the modern difficulty of forging friendships in adulthood, once everyone's out of school and starting to couple off. The point made each time is nothing new, certainly not to Austen devotees, though it always bears repeating: her work remains ever relevant, to everyone. Deresiewicz also offers a refreshingly clear cultural and historical reading of each novel, and the combination of the scholarly and the personal provides entirely new ways of looking at novels that I thought I already thoroughly knew. This is how "literary memoir" should be defined — not as a fake autobiography, but as a personal account of reading books that matter.
Library Journal
Janeites face the necessity of defending their favorite author against dismissive detractors who say that Austen's world was too insular, and thus she wrote works of mere romantic confection. Deresiewicz (formerly English, Yale Univ.; Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets) agreed with this sentiment until, as a doctoral student beginning his dissertation in English literature, he began studying Austen's works. He then came to appreciate that Austen was actually a deft, often satirical observer of the society in which she lived. But this book is not strictly literary criticism; it's a memoir. As the son of a harsh, overbearing immigrant father, Deresiewicz developed a detached attitude that served him badly in personal and social relationships. He found that through lessons learned in studying Austen's themes, he was able to subjugate his ego, cultivate kindness, and realize the necessity of perpetual growth in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. VERDICT Of the plethora of books about Austen's life and work, this is a standout as it addresses the timelessness of Austen's themes to prove the personal—and universal—relevance of literature.—Lisa Guidarini, Algonquin P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews

A literary critic confronts his callow youth and finds salvation in the pages of the English romantic novelist.

In the early pages, former Yale English professor Deresiewicz (Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets, 2005) recalls being an unlikely candidate for Jane Austen fandom, let alone the Austen scholar he later became. An aficionado of severe modernist bricks likeUlysses, he first readEmmaonly because he was compelled to for a course requirement. But Austen's skewering of contempt and pretentiousness among the English gentry hit home. "[S]he was showing me my own ugly face," he writes. Each of this book's main six chapters is framed around a particular Austen novel, along with a life lesson Deresiewicz took from it. InPride and Prejudice, he learned not to be so quick to judge; throughNorthanger Abbey, he discovered the importance of understanding others' perspectives;Mansfield Parkimparted a message about the perils of social climbing. The structure is somewhat facile, but his command of Austen's life and works is assured, and he's an engaging penitent, exposing his emotional scars without being manipulative. The Mansfield Parkchapter is particularly incisive, drilling deep into his motivations for befriending a set of upper-crust New Yorkers, and bouncing that experience against the emotional parrying in Austen's novel. Deresiewicz's path of discovery has an Austenish arc. After years of dismissiveness toward others, he learned to become openhearted and—how else could a book like this end?—eventually marry his true love. Though he occasionally ventures deep into the weeds elaborating on a novel's particular plot point—some of the dust of his dissertation work sticks to these pages—he's generally careful to keep the book appealing to both Austenites and those looking for a good memoir.

Deresiewicz smartly finds the practical value of Austen's prose without degrading her novels into how-to manuals.

Miranda Seymour
…sharp, endearingly self-effacing…Deresiewicz…has considerable fun at the expense of his pompous younger self…
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
“Sharp, endearingly self-effacing . . . a profound truth lies embedded in Deresiewicz’s witty account.” — THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“Like Austen, Deresiewicz is lucid, principled and knows how to think as well as how to feel, without ever sacrificing one to the other…. a delightful and enlightening book. — SLATE.COM

“An entertaining and original version of literary criticism—as autobiography.” — THE SEATTLE TIMES

“With A Jane Austen Education, Deresiewicz writes with discerning wit and quiet perception about the lessons in friendship, empathy, honesty, happiness, and love he learns from each of Austen's immortal novels.” — CHICAGO TRIBUNE

“[Deresiewicz] is charming on the page. He talks about literary characters as if they were real people, and about Austen as if she lived at the end of the block…he does so in a style that comes across as fresh and conversational, like a genuinely witty bibliophile you’d like to talk with at a party. " — LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

“[Deresiewicz] writes with wit, charm and candor, and the result is simply delightful." — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781594202889
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/28/2011
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
8.32(w) x 5.78(h) x 0.92(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Sharp, endearingly self-effacing... a profound truth lies embedded in Deresiewicz’s witty account.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

“Like Austen, Deresiewicz is lucid, principled and knows how to think as well as how to feel, without ever sacrificing one to the other…. a delightful and enlightening book. —SLATE

“An entertaining and original version of literary criticism—as autobiography.” —THE SEATTLE TIMES

“With A Jane Austen Education, Deresiewicz writes with discerning wit and quiet perception about the lessons in friendship, empathy, honesty, happiness, and love he learns from each of Austen's immortal novels.” —CHICAGO TRIBUNE

“[Deresiewicz] is charming on the page. He talks about literary characters as if they were real people, and about Austen as if she lived at the end of the block…he does so in a style that comes across as fresh and conversational, like a genuinely witty bibliophile you’d like to talk with at a party." —LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

“[Deresiewicz] writes with wit, charm and candor, and the result is simply delightful." —ASSOCIATED PRESS

Meet the Author

William Deresiewicz was an associate professor of English at Yale University until 2008 and is a widely published book critic. His reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Bookforum, and The American Scholar. He was nominated for National Magazine awards in 2008 and 2009 and the National Book Critics Circle's Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing in 2010. He is the author of Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets.

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A Jane Austen Education 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
ReviewsByMolly More than 1 year ago
I don't normally review memoirs. They just don't appeal to me, and I have a hard time being "captured" by the memoirs. However, there are rare occasions, such as this one, that I find I become engrossed in the life of the author, and I find myself finished with the book before I ever really got started! Those are the kinds of memoirs I enjoy...the ones that really capture and aren't too boring, yet aren't over the top. A Jane Austen Education is one such memoir, and I am pleased to have had the chance to review it! There are some folks out there who may think about buying this book because of Austen alone. She is a great story teller of all time, and I truly enjoy her work. But this isn't strictly about Austen. Yes, it's about Austen but it's not ABOUT Austen. Deresiewicz is a man who creates this enjoyable memoir about his life after reading 6 of Austen's novels. He was a man who laughed at Jane Austen's work. A man who takes each chapter, breaks them down by specific books of Austen, and tells of how each book changed his life in some form or other. Through each chapter, Deresiewicz tells of the meaning of each of these "romantic" novels, as they have so often been dubbed. After reading the novels, he was able to see through "romance" to the meaning and life lessons among each one. He took those messages/lessons and filed them away, learning from them and seeing what would make his life different....make his life better. This is a four star memoir that I highly recommend you read. If you are an Austen fan, then take a moment or two to read this novel. You will see her stories in a whole new light! High praises to the author of this enjoyable memoir.
beckytheother More than 1 year ago
I loved this book already being an self-professed Austenite. I think it is though very useful and enjoyable to get a masculine perspective on Austen. I enjoyed Mr. Deresiewicz's narrative and perspective. I do highly recommend it!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For all Jane fans!
Verity_K More than 1 year ago
Mr. Deresiewicz gives an intelligent summary of the life lessons in Jane Austen's novels that are useful for anyone looking to further enhance their already fine character: choose wisdom over wit, love with your head AND your heart, and most of all strive for kindness and usefulness.
CarmanK More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed reading this book. It is a new perspective on Jane Austen that I had never fully understood until now. Very interesting, hard to put down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
EmilyI More than 1 year ago
To any and ALL Jane Austen fans out there, read this, "A Jane Austen Education: how six novels taught me about love, friendship, and the things that really matter" by William Deresiewicz. Seriously. I'm in the SAME giddy raptures of delight that I get into after watching an Austen adaptation, and this is only a memoir about how six novels changed a man's life. Now, more than ever, I'm determined to wait, not for the man who "completes me", but the one who, by God's grace and divine awesome love, stretches and grows me while letting me stretch and grow him as we grow together in God. I'm quite happy to wait for my Darcy and my Wentworth, my Edward and my Mr. Knightley. This memoir follows a man as he writes his dissertation on community in nineteenth-century England. He took a class in college on English lit and was blessed to have one of those great professors who teach not to teach, but to be taught. William Deresiewicz, the author, was totally not into Jane Austen- "Why do we have to read some sappy Romantic author? Are you kidding me? Let's read Dostoevsky instead!"- but realized as he read Emma, that neither was Jane Austen. She strove to be separate from her Romantic peers, and instead write about community, friendship, affection, and lastly true love. Austen laughed at the people (her characters) who "fell into love", writing them as being the biggest fools of all. Deresiewicz uses each of Austen's six novels to explain some part of society--explanations that apply to our modern world as well--and to show how the brilliant, honest thoughts of Austen changed his life. This book is well written, with humor, meaning, and connection, and expands each Austen story in a way that I never would have done on my own. (Though, to be fair, I haven't read all six novels, and the two I have read were a few years ago. Just like for Austen's beloved characters, growing up changes things.) It's a rare book that can change a person's viewpoint, and I can say that I will not be about to watch an Austen adaptation--or read her books--the same way ever again. Heck, even if you're not actually a fan of Austen at the moment, read this, and you just might end up being one. There are worse things.
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