Learning from Jane Austen
I think we all love it when we meet a man who loves Jane Austen as much as we (speaking for women) do. It’s a great joy to have Jack on board with us here at Austen Authors. I am proud to say that my husband loves Jane Austen. He has read all her novels, all of my novels, and even some novels written by a few of the Austen authors here. I also have some other male friends who confess a likeness for her; one who claims she is his favorite author. Although the majority of her fans are women, there are a great deal of men out there –and have been over the two centuries since she penned them – who appreciate Jane Austen’s novels as much as any woman.
When I was trying to come up with an idea for my blog this month, I decided to do a review of a book I just finished reading. When I first heard about it, I was so intrigued that I immediately downloaded it to my Kindle and began reading it! (Yeah! for instant gratification!)
The book is called A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. That’s quite a mouthful for a title of a book, let alone an author’s last name, and I still don’t get either of them correct all the time. (It is a cute cover, though, don’t you think?)
I was intrigued by this book not only because was it about Jane Austen’s novels, but it was written by a man who read Jane Austen’s novels (even though at first, he read her most reluctantly). But more than that, it was a book about what he had learned from reading Jane Austen’s novels!
The book contains 6 chapters, and I can imagine you can guess what each chapter is about. If you thought “Each of her novels,” you would be correct. Each chapter talks about a particular Austen novel, as well as what was going on in his life – how dumb he was, what a jerk he was, and what he learned about himself, life, love, etc., from her. Did I mention how dumb he was and what a jerk he was? He freely admits that even though he was highly educated, he was an arrogant fool who thought he knew everything, but discovered he knew very little!
I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed hearing how the author was confounded by some of Austen’s characters, identified with a few, and made the wrong assumptions along with some others. What he learned from her novels, though, truly had a great impact on how he began to view friendship, community, family, and love. These lessons did not readily come to him in one reading. They came to him as he read the novels over and over, seeing things he hadn’t seen in previous readings.
Here are a few of the things he learned:.
From Emma: Everyday matters – When he began to read Emma, Deresiewicz found two characters particularly annoying: Miss Bates and Mr. Woodhouse. Miss Bates talks endlessly about inane things, almost as if something dreadful might happen to her if she stopped. Not very intelligent, her conversation was made up of the most trite aspects of her life. Mr. Woodhouse, an over-the-top hypochondriac, imagines all sorts of dreadful things that might happen to him or to others, imposing his fears and demands upon them. It was these same types of people that Deresiewicz would tune out in the world around him and he would not give them the time of day. He was pleased to see that Emma felt the same way about Miss Bates. He identified with her, as she would often put off going to visit Miss Bates when she knew she should because the woman’s endless chatter could be so tiresome. But when Emma insulted Miss Bates, even Deresiewicz realized how badly done her actions were, but at the same time, he recognized the same reprehensible behavior in himself.
From Pride and Prejudice: Growing Up – Deresiewicz very much liked the character of Elizabeth Bennet. He admired her sparkling wit and liveliness. He was insulted and angered along with her at Mr. Darcy at their first meeting. He eyed him with disdain, while thinking George Wickham would be more suitable for her. When Elizabeth received Mr. Darcy’s letter explaining the facts of Wickham to her, she was humiliated and realized that ‘Til this moment I never knew myself.’ It was a painful realization that she had only looked at things the way she wanted, and Deresiewicz was forced to examine the way he looked at things in his life, as well.
In each of Jane Austen’s books, Deresiewicz learns profound truths that help him become a better person. I found some new insights as well, about each of the books as he details the lessons he learned. He also looks to the author herself and includes excerpts from some of her letters, trying to determine what her opinion on a particular subject might have been, what point she was trying to make, and to discover those things that were important to her.
I love reading about what others see and learn from Jane Austen, and I’m confident most of the followers of this blog do, too. Each contributor at Austen Authors adds wonderful new insights into Jane and the era in which she lived, her beloved novels, and maybe a little bit of what he or she may have come to learn about themselves, as well, through reading her books.
I think any fan of Jane Austen will find this book enjoyable, as I did. You might just come away from it learning something new about her, about one of her novels, or even about yourself.
Have you ever learned anything about life from a novel, or more specifically, from one of Jane Austen’s novels?
19 Responses to Learning from Jane Austen