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255 pages, Hardcover
First published April 28, 2011
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.
So you have six trite, facile chapter headings like this: “Emma: Everyday matters”; “Mansfield Park: Being good”; “Sense and Sensibility: Falling in love.” And each chapter, as their headings suggest, offers straightforward, if hard-earned, lessons on each subject. Emma: “Life is lived at the level of the little…Emma’s life finally became real to her, and in reading about her life I felt mine becoming real to me”; Pride and Prejudice: “the novel was really showing me how to grow up”; Northanger Abbey: “the wonderful thing about life, if you live it right, is that it keeps taking you by surprise”; Mansfield Park: “the only people who can really feel are those who have a sense of what it means to do without”; Persuasion: “Friends, Austen taught me, are the family you chose”; Sense and Sensibility: “the essential requirement for love…is simply to possess a loving heart.” [. . . ] You hardly need to read Jane Austen, let alone six of her novels, to come up with such brain-nuking platitudes.[. . .] But Deresiewicz, [. . .] proves almost ludicrously reductive in his approach to the subject and, as a result, preposterously self-serving: the pursuit for the teachings of Jane Austen come at too high a price to Jane Austen; the equilibrium that ought to exist when an author has the nerve to explicate his own life parallel to some of the most beloved literary lives in the world is terminally overturned.
- Emma: "everyday matters"It was interesting to read this because it was written by a man. William Deresiewicz admits during the first chapter, that he considered Jane Austen's book as something meant for women, something "ridiculous and a symbol of dullness and narrowness, a bunch of silly romantic fairy tales". He had to read "Emma" for a class in college and was completely against it but... he ended up falling with the story, and thats pretty much how he started to read each book.
- Pride and Prejudice: "growing up"
- Northanger Abbey: "learning to learn"
- Mansfield Park: "being good"
- Persuasion: "true friends"
- Sense and Sensibility: "falling in love"