Thursday, October 13, 2011

Janeites! Grab This Book

I just finished a terrific book about Jane Austen's novels and about more than that:  A Jane Austen Education.

(You!  Rolling your eyes.  Pay attention.)

This book's author, William Deresiewicz, (yes, a guy) started with the same prejudice against ROmance you have, the same girl-talk phobia, the same fear of dreary, verbose 19th century classics written by dead white chicks.

He learned better.

Sure, it's possible to read Austen as gooshy romance (by ignoring her bite, as films tend to) or to read purely for social comedy (by ignoring the suffering), but there's more going on.  But I hadn't considered - in the depth this scholar has - just how much of an instruction manual for life Austen's novels are.  Our age does not much truck with the idea of character building, but that is what Austen writes of: love made possible by understanding another's character and by cultivating our own best self.

Mixing novels with events in his own life, Deresiewicz illustrates Austen's points.  So perfect are his illustrations that I wondered if this was fictionalized.  It's so rare for what is, at one level, a book of literary criticism to be this engaging and this much of a page-turner (I hated putting it down to sleep and started reading again before breakfast) that I can only admit to deep suspicion... (Unworthy suspicion - a character flaw I'm working on.).  Why can't literary and real-life insight be both entertaining and profound...?

(Profound?  Did I type that?  Inconceivable!*)

public domain images mashed

If you, Dear Reader, have read a little Jane Austen, read this book.  Or BUY this book.  (I will.)  If you haven't yet discovered Jane Austen or were taught by 9th grade English class to hate her... please try again.  You'll be a better person.  Start with Pride and Prejudice.  Then read this book.

Earlier post on J. A.

* ( As Vizzini of The Princess Bride would say.)

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