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

A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz
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's review
Dec 09, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: memoir, austen, american-writers
Read in December, 2011

The book's structure is a neat concept--a memoir via Jane Austen's six novels. Our story begins with the narrator an insecure graduate student who is in an intellectual pissing contest with everyone he encounters. His snobbery smacks of sexism, as he dreads reading "chick lit," as he calls the masterpieces of nineteenth century literature written by women. Austen and his mentor, who sounds like he is one of those unknown people who leaves the world a MUCH better place, slowly change his attitude towards life. We come to see that so much of this unpleasantness was instilled in him by his father, an abusive man scarred by the Holocaust. By his efforts reflecting, really reflecting on her novels, he allows Austen to reach across time and slowly undo some of this damage, revealing a pretty great guy. His analysis allowed me to see new aspects in Austen's novels I had not really grasped before, and his life's parallels made me finally come closer to understanding Mansfield Park. He deals with several chapters of his life with shocking honesty. I hope his father and society friends never read his descriptions of them. This clarity, however, made me realize now that I had been raised surrounded by Mary Crawfords and that, like many of us in today's technological world, shared some of her vices.
This is not only a great book for people who love Jane Austen; it is probably also a good book for anyone who enjoys self-help books, redemptive memoirs, and anyone who believes in the transformative power of books. The author seems to have written for a popular audience, but I wish they had included an index for anyone who would like to write on Austen. His analysis is almost worthy of Jane herself.

Note to self: rewrite my article to comparing and contrasting Charlotte Lucas and Mary Crawford. I disagree with the author on page 229 when he says "two versions, for their creator, of self-damnation."

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