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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 ·  3,724 ratings  ·  805 reviews
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 no
Hardcover, 255 pages
Published April 28th 2011 by Penguin Press
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  3,724 ratings  ·  805 reviews

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Jul 15, 2011 rated it did not like 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
Abigail Bok
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Former associate professor William Deresiewicz has written what is today a rather unusual type of book. At first blush it looks like an entry in the exploding genre of popular Jane Austen criticism, and in a way it could be so described. But it’s really more of a memoir—a memoir that uses literary criticism as a vehicle for explaining the author’s moral and intellectual development at a certain stage of his life. Seen in that light, it is a throwback to a kind of book that was common in the eigh ...more
Apr 10, 2011 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
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, own
My mom sent me and my sister each a copy of this after she read it for her book club! Thank you, Mom! This book is awesome, both as a literary exploration of Jane Austen and as a self help book. I don't really like self-help books, personally, but Deresiewicz's style is so engaging and down-to-earth that I just adored it. He freely admits his mistakes, he is honest about what he likes and doesn't like about Jane Austen, her books, and his life. The book is divided into six sections, one about ea ...more
Aug 22, 2011 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
Jul 01, 2011 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.

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
Jun 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Amy by: Kris
Part memoir, part literary analysis, and part love letter to Jane Austen, A Jane Austen Education was an easy, thought-provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable read. Thanks for sending it to me, Kris.

Lucy Worsley says often in Jane Austen at Home that you find in Austen's works what you look for. The thought applies well here, though not in the way I expected.
What initially appealed to me was simply the male perspective it provides on Jane Austen. Just about everyone I know who loves Jane Austen is
Aug 07, 2011 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
Carol Bakker
Last month, once I got beyond sleeping all day, I cast around my library for a comfort read. Comfortable and nourishing, like butternut squash soup. Deresiewicz's memoir fit the bill. He read all of Austen in graduate school and comingles his insights into her works with epiphanies he had in his personal life. His own journey from timid/overbearing to humble/confident is fun to watch.

Like so many guys, I thought that a good conversation meant holding forth about all the supposedly important thi
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was ok
How do you miss the whole point of Jane Austen? Read this book to find out!
Anna Mussmann
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
Deresiewicz's memoir tells how, as a graduate student in English, he slowly acquired the values that allowed him to grow up, learn to be a friend, and become capable of true love. His teacher in all this was Jane Austen. His book is structured around Austen's six novels (one chapter each) and interweaves events from his own life with commentary upon the major lesson he drew from each book.

My reaction was mixed. On the one hand, Deresiewicz writes engagingly and is easy to read. It's a lot of fu
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 rounded up. As others have noted, there's a fair amount of banal summarization of plots, but on the whole this is charming, and basically, I can read about people trying to express why they love Jane Austen til the cows come home. ...more
Julie Bestry
Sep 04, 2011 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
Jan 09, 2015 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
Eustacia Tan
Aug 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 30, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a good read for any fan of Jane Austen who has read all her books (because if you haven't this one is full of spoilers). Each chapter is focused on a different book and through them the author William Deresiewicz tells you what each book taught him. Being that said, the chapters are:
- Emma: "everyday matters"
- Pride and Prejudice: "growing up"
- Northanger Abbey: "learning to learn"
- Mansfield Park: "being good"
- Persuasion: "true friends"
- Sense and Sensibility: "falling in love"
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
Jul 06, 2012 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
Sep 29, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a welcome diversion from my usual genres.I found this thought provoking and reflective. The author takes you through Jane Austen's 6 novels and proves the point or purpose in her writing that novel and talks about how each book touched his life. It's philosophy.

There was nothing earth shattering here but if you're a Jane Austen fan you would probably enjoy this.
Kressel Housman
Jan 14, 2015 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 ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Pfft. I want to give him paper cuts with his own book then make him bathe in lemon juice. The only analysis I even remotely agreed with was of Mansfield Park, but he lost my respect early on when he claimed that reading Jane Austen helped him understand women better. Women. How about understanding HUMAN BEINGS, Billy? Just because her protagonists are women means everything contained therein is a reflection on the female sex? All the eye rolls. I have so many words for William Deresiewicz, but a ...more
Mary Simonsen
Jul 23, 2012 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
Mary Ronan Drew
May 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
Love how William Deresiewicz opened himself to receive Jane Austen teachings. He exposed himself in order to help everyone see that Jane Austen isn't just chic lit. Jane Austen is for everyone, we most open ourselves to her and listen. ...more
Mar 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Full review to come at shortly.

Much of it was brilliant, insightful, and very intriguing.

Sadly, however, the author used some distasteful language in several places and it is unfortunate that he is still very much a modernist in his morals.
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, non-fiction, 2018
A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz is a fascinating exploration into Jane Austen’s six novels and the lessons we can learn from them. It is broken up by novel with each chapter consisting of a theme/overall lesson. The list of themes include

1) Emma: Everyday Matters
2) Pride and Prejudice: Growing Up
3) Northanger Abbey: Learning to Learn
4) Mansfield Park: Being Good
5) Persuasion: True Friends
6) Sense and Sensibility: Falling in Love

I enjoy the way Deresiewicz delves into each individu
Nichole Parks
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've read a few Jane Austen books.

But halfway into "A Jane Austen Education," I wasn't sure if I actually had. There was so much that I'd missed! I'd never paused to truly reflect over the truths Austen illustrated through her stories.

Within these pages, Deresiewics gave me that chance. Once I got to pondering, I began asking the same questions the author posed to myself. . . and then to friends. I was excited, interested. I was back in the literature courses I loved.

This is a thoughtful read.
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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

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