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

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,544 Ratings  ·  599 Reviews
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
Hardcover, 255 pages
Published April 28th 2011 by Penguin Press
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Jan 18, 2014 Holly added it
Shelves: 2011-reads
Brain-nuking platitudes! I thought this was going to be an interesting little book by the William Deresiewicz who wrote that American Scholar piece on solitude and leadership that blew me away earlier this year. But instead I find dreck. All the Goodreads reviewer but approximately one appear to love it, and the one who didn't is spot on:
Take one intellectual graduate student, force him to read Emma, add one professor whose technique is styled as "stripping the paint off our brains," and mix in
A few days ago, while I was finishing my reread of Mansfield Park and loving it more than I thought I would, I stumbled, here on GR, on a rather heterosexist (and when I say rather, I mean very) review of Pride and Prejudice that said that women appreciate it because they fall in love with Darcy.
I never loved Mr. Darcy, not really. I like him and all, and I can see the appeal of the likes of Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, but what I always loved were Elizabeth, Kitty's ill timed coughs and
I don’t read Jane Austen’s novels for life lessons. Neither do I read her for history, romance or social commentary. I read Jane Austen because I have never (and I mean that unequivocally) met an author with such a gift for words. However, this does not mean that I won’t read and enjoy the lessons someone else has gleaned from her work. In fact, I have probably read more words about Austen and her works than she has actually written, the juvenilia and incomplete works included.

As far as critici
Aug 22, 2011 Belinda rated it it was ok
This book is a blend of light textual analysis, Jane Austen biography and memoir. As I haven't studied literature beyond high school, I enjoyed the textual analysis and did gain a new perspective of aspects of these texts. I also enjoyed the biographical information, especially the quotes from letters written by Austen and her family.

What I found incredibly frustrating about this book was the memoir aspect. Basically, Deresiewicz says he was a self-centred, arrogant psuedo intellectual who is a
Aug 08, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing
Anyone who knows me relatively well, knows I love Jane Austen's books. I have read Pride and Prejudice more times than I can remember, own all her works, and quite a few of the movie adaptations of those books.

There are those who dismiss Austen as merely a romance novelist of the Regency period and, while its true that romance is definitely a large component of her work, I think those people who categorize her as such are missing the forest for the trees. William Deresiewicz does a fine job in
Jul 01, 2011 Melanie rated it did not like it
Take one intellectual graduate student, force him to read Emma, add one professor whose technique is styled as "stripping the paint off our brains," and mix in some Austen plot synopses. What do you get? In this case, you get a quasi-memoir-cum-appreciation of Jane Austen's major novels that (I believe) would make Austen wince and Oprah applaud.

May 04, 2011 Laurel rated it it was amazing
We have long harbored the belief that everything worth knowing about life and love can be learned in a Jane Austen novel. William Deresiewicz thinks so too, and we could not be happier. In A Jane Austen Education he soundly reaffirms our opinion that the world would be a better place if everyone just paid attention and listened to Jane Austen.

We realize that he is preaching to the choir here, but thought it important to point out that he started out in a much different place as a twenty-six year
Ana Maria Rînceanu
This book is 255 pages of awesome!
Mary Ronan Drew
Aug 02, 2011 Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library-book
You do need to be a Jane Austen fan to appreciate William Deresiewicz' new book, but if you are a Janeite it is a treasure. The author was studying English literature when he began reading Austen novels and with the help of a particularly skillful professor he began to appreciate her work in a new way.

From the review: 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.
Julie Bestry
Sep 04, 2011 Julie Bestry rated it liked it
I'd had this title on my Amazon wish list since the day it came out, but was happily surprised to find my library had just acquired a copy. Since I'm pretty frugal, I have to say I'm glad I didn't pay for this...which is not to say it's unworthy. But the book is about 50% memoir, with the remainder given over to professorial analysis of the six Austen novels (and cursory commentary about Austen's actual life). The author is very honest about what a jerk he was, but not warm enough for me to feel ...more
For some it might be just another Jane Austen-related book, for me it was equally delightful and useful. Useful, as in: Look! There's more Jane Austen trivia I had no idea about. Far from being a Janeite or an Austenite, or how on earth they call themselves (I've only read Pride and Prejudice and loved it, just like anyone else, and Emma, which I barely tolerated), I'm not to judge her by the books, rather by the films, I guess I've seen them all but Northanger Abbey. Shameful, I know. However, ...more
Mary Simonsen
Mar 27, 2015 Mary Simonsen rated it it was amazing
Although I enjoy most of what Jane Austen wrote, I never liked Mansfield Park. I found Fanny Price insufferable, and Edmund Bertram a bit of a bore. As for the other characters, with the possible exception of Mary Crawford, I didn’t like them enough to care about them. For me, personally, the novel was a dud, but that was before I read William Deresiewicz’s A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love and Friendship.

According to Deresiewicz, Austen had something to teach us in Ma
Oct 09, 2012 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a pleasant memoir about a graduate student who reads Jane Austen's novels and sees connections between his own behavior and the behavior of the characters. My favorite chapters were about Mansfield Park and Persuasion. William noticed that some people in his social circle in New York were as shallow and selfish as the Crawfords in Mansfield Park, and he decided to place more emphasis on true friendship and on finding ways of being useful to others.

Austen fans will appreciate the various
Feb 01, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing
What an excellent read! It took me two days to read this 255 page book on "A Jane Austen Education. This is a beautiful memoir written by New Yorker/ Connecticut author William Deresiewicz, whose life was completely transformed by Jane Austen's literature: which not only revealed the remarkable life lessons hidden within her six novels- – Emma: “everyday matters;” Pride and Prejudice: “growing up;” Northanger Abbey: “Learning to Learn;” Mansfield Park: ”Being Good;” Persuasion: “True Friends;” S ...more
Lydia Presley
May 18, 2011 Lydia Presley rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, memoirs, 2011
A man? Writing about Jane Austen? Really?

Those were the first thoughts through my head when I took this book out of the shipping envelope it came in. Then I remembered why I requested it - because I loved the cover and for that cover alone I was willing to give it a shot.

And as I began reading I began to really understand just why it's a bit significant that a man wrote this book.

If you are anything like me, you've attempted to get at least one boyfriend to read Jane Austen. And then you have he
Kressel Housman
Feb 08, 2015 Kressel Housman rated it really liked it
Professor Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep affected me so strongly, I just had to follow up with his book on Jane Austen. It has none of the polemics of Excellent Sheep; it’s just a memoir of his grad school years and how he went from a Jane Austen hater to a fan. His dissertation covered all six books, so presumably, this book contains all the personal reactions that didn’t fit into his academic research. The book circulates between summaries of the novels and the life lessons he learned fo ...more
Apr 08, 2016 Melanie rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2016
This book was surprisingly good! I say surprisingly because I always come a bit skeptically to books that play off of Jane Austen in some way. The author was a snobbish English lit grad student who came to his studies intent on delving deeper into modernism. In a class he was required to read Emma, and thanks to a fabulous professor he came to see that Austen wasn't just a provincial spinster writing women's fiction. She said important things in sophisticated ways. He went on to read all of Aust ...more
Amy Anderson
Aug 23, 2014 Amy Anderson rated it it was amazing
I really did not want to like this book! I was convinced that most men could never really get Jane Austen, and this particular author was probably writing this book to get a girl. Well I am ashamedly wrong, I enjoyed every minute of it! There were different things I got out of many of Jane Austen's books, but I found myself nodding in approval to the things William Deresiewicz discovered for himself. And it has a happy ending. Sigh... I love Jane Austen!

Favorite Quotes:

"I could grow up and find
Jun 14, 2011 Skye rated it it was amazing
It’s no secret: I absolutely adore Jane Austen. I usually read one of her novels a year, usually during the summer months when I feel like I’ve been granted an excursion to take in the fresh sea air of Bath. So far I’ve made my way through Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and (just this past month) Persuasion. The girl was a genius.

Imagine my excitement when I found an Austen-related book in one of the most unexpected places. I was at Costco, and spotted this find on the book table
Amanda Ferrell
I love Jane Austen. Who else knows how to have fun and encourage you to be on your best behavior and be the best you can be? I love it that she sees the ills of 'society', but that it didn't make her want to give up on people and the way they get along. She wasn't so disenchanted that she was willing to do without the pleasure of good company. Mr. Deresiewicz articulates all that and much more when extolling the virtures of her characters, stories and plots. He begings by making the point the Au ...more
Amanda Griggs
Apr 04, 2012 Amanda Griggs rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A great look at Jane Austen's novels and how they influenced and changed one man's life in an immeasurable way. I love books like this, because they tap into that eternal vein of why we all love books- because they inspire us, they challenge us, they change us, they infuriate us- books inspire emotion in readers. The way the author viewed the books and what he found in them of note made me itch to go back and re-read my favorites, and especially take on the Austens I haven't read yet. I'm almost ...more
L Greyfort
Oct 05, 2011 L Greyfort rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, philosophy, essays
As someone who has continued to fight the good fight against Austen prejudice for a long time ("Oh, nothing happens in those books. It's just a bunch of rich people sitting around talking about the weather and drinking tea." "Yeah, and then a 15-year-old girl disappears with an older man, and her family doesn't know what's happened to her or where she is for weeks...")("Oh, they're so un-realistic - like nothng bad ever happens in them." "Yeah, right, 'Sense and Sensibility' begins with a widow ...more
Jun 12, 2011 Ciara rated it really liked it
i wasn't sure what to expect from this book, as i am not a huge jane austen fan. i picked it up because i read a few glowing reviews, & i was pleasantly surprised to find that i agreed! the book is divided into six sections, one for each of jane austen's novels. the author focuses on a particular lesson that he learned from each book, such as "growing up" or "learning to love". he focuses mainly on literary analysis of said topic, relying on liberal quotations from the novels & descripti ...more
May 20, 2011 Irene rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Jane Austen Fans
Recommended to Irene by: Shan
Shelves: non-fiction
I would give this book 3 1/2 stars if 1/2-stars were allowed.

When Ken first mentioned this book to me, I admit I was a bit indignant. Being just in the middle of reading all six of Jane Austen's novels, and thoroughly enjoying the experience, I thought, "I am getting so much out of these books, do I really need to read what some other random person got out of them?"

To my surprise, my cousin Shan mailed me this book a couple days after I finished Northanger Abbey, the last of her novels that I
Oct 07, 2012 Megh rated it it was amazing
I understand the cynical take that I've found in other reviews of this book, but I have to say that I unequivocally loved this book. I agree that at points it is over done. But, the viewpoint it brings to Jane Austen and her works is no doubt interesting and relevant. I started reading Austen as a preteen, and hearing someone dissect the lessons I internalized long ago was very interesting. While Deresiewicz maintains an academic tone, he is fittingly casual in places- particularly when the topi ...more
Jun 02, 2011 Lara rated it really liked it
Like many of you, I love Jane Austen's books. I mean, I've read Pride and Prejudice so many times that I've lost count. Now, my husband isn't a reader of fiction--he prefers things like biographies and music text books-- but even if he were, I highly doubt he'd be very willing to pick up any of Jane Austen's works. After all, aren't they the epitome of girly lit? I have made him watch some of the movie adaptations with me, and he has enjoyed them, but I still don't think that he'd pull them out ...more
Oct 05, 2014 Shelley rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: No one. Ever.
Shelves: memoir-bio
I'd rather be locked in a room with 100 Janeites debating Mansfield Park ("the Fanny Wars") than look at this again.

I started out thinking I'd be reading another in the recent plethora of "how I was an asshole but became enlightened because of X" memoirs. And it is. Except the author never stops being a snot, and aside from some vague examples of "growing up" from 20 to 30ish, it's a bunch of reductive summaries of Austen's novels. (Oh, and spoiler alert: growing up in this book means learning
Jan 22, 2012 B0nnie rated it it was ok
Yes, this was 'ok', as the 2 star rating says. A sincere analysis of Jane Austen & her novels can never be a loser, even if the author uses it as a vehicle to show how he went from being a loser to a winner. The writing is merely adequate and his life revelations are obvious and not so interesting. And, after sort of setting up the Austen/Brontë dichotomy, he ends the book with "Reader, I married her." That, reader, was jarring. I guess the Brontës win after all.
Feb 08, 2015 Theresa rated it really liked it
"I was twenty-six, and about as dumb, in all human things, as any twenty-six year old has a right to be, when I met the woman who would change my life. That she'd been dead for a couple of hundred years made not the slightest difference whatsoever. Her name was Jane Austen..."

Thus begins the book "A Jane Austen Education" by William Deresiewicz. A self-proclaimed 'modernist', he originally dismissed Austen's writing as "banal." But then, as a second year grad student, he signed himself up for "a
Georgiana 1792
May 18, 2012 Georgiana 1792 rated it really liked it
Sei Gruppi di Lettura con William Deresiewicz

Chissà se Jane Austen si sarebbe spaventata a vedersi consultata come una maestra di vita, un oracolo a cui ricorrere nel momento in cui bisogna fare delle scelte importanti. Eppure, nella sua brevissima vita, ha davvero prodotto delle perle di saggezza, delle lezioni a cui attingere nei momenti di difficoltà anche oggi, a distanza di duecento anni dalla loro pubblicazione. Ecco perché nei momenti difficili dell’esistenza leggere o rileggere un romanz
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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 Rev ...more
More about William Deresiewicz...

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“There's no doubt about it: fun people are fun. But I finally learned that there is something more important, in the people you know, than whether they are fun. Thinking about those friends who had given me so much pleasure but who had also caused me so much pain, thinking about that bright, cruel world to which they'd introduced me, I saw that there's a better way to value people. Not as fun or not fun, or stylish or not stylish, but as warm or cold, generous or selfish. People who think about others and people who don't. People who know how to listen, and people who only know how to talk.” 25 likes
“...Novels--which, after all, are training grounds for responding to the world, imaginative sanctuaries in which to hone and test our ethical judgments and choices.” 3 likes
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