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

William Deresiewicz

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0143121251

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Before Jane Austen, William Deresiewicz was a very different young man. A sullen and arrogant graduate student, he never thought Austen would have anything to offer him. Then he read Emma—and everything changed.


In this unique and lyrical book, Deresiewicz weaves the misadventures of Austen’s characters with his own youthful follies, demonstrating the power of the great novelist’s teachings—and how, for Austen, growing up and making mistakes are one and the same. Honest, erudite, and deeply moving, A Jane Austen Education is the story of one man’s discovery of the world outside himself.


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be difficult, and it also rebuked the human attitudes that that idea was designed to justify. I still loved modernism, I just no longer believed it was the only way to make art, and I certainly didn’t think that it was way to live. Yet what of that modernist novel par excellence, the work that formed the very core of my identity as a reader: James Joyce’s Ulysses? As any English major can tell you, Ulysses also celebrates the everyday. With it, Joyce sought to create a work that was comparable

and taller, and hairier. But the other part—what about that? We come into the world as a tiny bundle of impulse and ignorance—how do we ever become fit for human company, let alone capable of love? This, I discovered that summer, was what Jane Austen’s novels were about. Her heroines were sixteen or nineteen or twenty (people married young in those days, especially women). We followed them for a few weeks, or a few months, or a year. They started out in one place, and gradually—or sometimes,

Marianne ignored her sister’s advice about the things she owed her neighbors and family, their hearts remained closed. For Austen, before you can fall in love with someone else, you have to come to know yourself. In other words, you have to grow up. Love isn’t going to magically transform you, make you into a better or even a different person—another myth that I’d bought into—it can only work with what you already are. Like it said in Northanger Abbey, we have to learn to love. I knew those

Marianne and I had believed about love, but it’s also necessary, if melancholy, to give them up. Austen had respect for Elinor, but it was perfectly clear that the character she loved the most in Sense and Sensibility was her sister. Yet just because she loved her so much, she loved her enough to want to see her happy. And for Austen, as I already knew, the key to happiness was letting life surprise you. The only thing that’s shocking about the way young lovers act, I realized now, is how

it is women who are supposed to spend half hours, and more than half hours, gabbing with their girlfriends about every little thing. We are expected to preserve a manly silence, or speak only of impersonal matters—in other words, girls, gear, and sports or, if we take ourselves very seriously, politics and public affairs. Things were not any different in Austen’s day, as the way she used that very phrase “minute particulars” made a point of underscoring. Mr. Knightley, a family friend, was

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