Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz

I've always known Jane Austen had lots to teach. And this book sets it out very clearly. Not only is Austen a master of the literary form, she also has very interesting things to teach us about life.

A Jane Austen education takes a look at Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility and how they impacted the author's life. And since he was doing a PhD in literature, Jane Austen is one of the authors that he writes about in his dissertation. It's not one of those fluffy "power of friendships" type of Jane Austen education - this book uses literary analysis to show us how Jane Austen provoked a specific reaction in us and how she wanted us to learn from that.

Surprisingly, the book gave me a new perspective on several books, especially Mansfield Park. I never though of how Jane Austen used the contrast of Fanny and Mary to make us think about which is more important - charm or a good heart. I've always liked Fanny (hence my displeasure at re-writes that cast Mary as the good, main character), so it's something I never considered. Another contrast that I never considered before would be Marianne and Elinor and their respective romances.

Plus, the impact that Jane Austen had on the author was really meaningful. It wasn't a drastic "changed my life 180 degrees" thing, rather, she taught him how to see what was wrong, and gave him ideas on how to improve his life.

I'm actually not quite sure if this book is a literary analysis or a semi-autobiography of how Jane Austen impacted one person's life. What I do know is this - I would really like to read the author's dissertation, it sounds really interesting!

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