As an engineering student, I chose to take “literary expressions” as a thematic in my degree and took a variety of literature courses while at Michigan Technological University. It was not a hardship for me as I am a strange person that loves being an engineer, and also harbors secret dreams of becoming an English professor. I was fortunate to take one class called “The British Novel” with a delightful professor, Dr. Barry Pegg. He picked great novels and also had a British accent, which only enhanced the entire experience. It was also the first and only time in my high school, college, or graduate school experience that I was able to read an Austen novel with a class and discuss it. We read Pride and Prejudice. While it was not my first time reading the novel, Dr. Pegg managed to get me to think about the novel in an entirely different way than I had ever thought about it before. I loved the new insights and discussing it with a class.
What does this have to do with A Jane Austen Education? A Jane Austen Education is a superb new book by William Deresiewicz. Deresiewicz was an English Professor at Yale University and I felt that like Dr. Pegg, Deresiewicz was able to give me new insight into all of Austen novels in a delightful and enjoyable way.
A Jane Austen Education is part memoir and part literary criticism of all six of Jane Austen’s novels. Deresiewicz takes us on his journey of discovering Austen, her novels, and the part they played in enhancing his own life.
As a graduate student, Deresiewicz prided himself on his heavy “manly” reading. When he was forced to read an Austen novel (Emma) for one of his courses, he was not enthused. Once he started reading the book, he at first thought his worst fears had been realized. “The story seemed to consist of nothing more than a lot of chitchat among a bunch of commonplace characters in a country village. No grand events, no great issues, and inexplicably for a writer of romance novels, not even any passion.”
As Deresiewicz continued to read Emma, he finally had an epiphany and understood the novel. “Austen, I realized, had not been writing about everyday things because she couldn’t’ think of anything else to talk about. She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are. . . Austen wasn’t silly and superficial; she was much, much smarter – and much wiser – than I could ever have imagined.”
As Deresiewicz learned while reading Emma, “To pay attention to ‘minute particulars’ is to notice your life as it passes, before it passes.” I loved this sentence. It is so true and such a lovely sentence in itself.
Although this book does not seem like a page turner, I admit that I had a hard time putting it down and looked forward to every opportunity to return to reading it. Deresiewicz did a great job of writing about himself, I enjoyed and commiserated with his graduate school experiences and the hard time he had finding true love. I also enjoyed reading about his snobbishness in realizing there is a world outside of New York City. It gave me a few good chuckles trying to imagine his friend’s reactions to a place like rural Kewaunee, Wisconsin.
I must also say that this book had the perfect ending. I won’t give it away, but it gave me a happy laugh at the very end when I closed the book. I love having a reading experience like that!
Overall, if you are a lover of Jane Austen and her novels, or if you are someone that wonders what the fuss is about Jane Austen, I highly recommend this book. You will not be disappointed. Now I need to somehow take what I learned from this book and convince my husband to give Jane Austen a chance!
I reviewed this book as part of the TLC Book Tours. For more reviews of this novel, please check out other stops on the tour at this link.
Book Source: Review Copy from Penguin Books. Thank-you!