A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter - William Deresiewicz 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 criticism and commentary go, this book is not a bad place to start. Part memoir, part critical examination, A Jane Austen Education combines the author’s personal experience with a fairly close reading of Austen’s six major works. Each of Austen’s books is given a chapter, and each chapter is structured so as to illustrate Deresiewicz’s personal experience and how it both reflects upon and is reflected by each work.

It would be very easy to argue that the events of his life sync up a little too perfectly with the novels to be entirely true to life, but I don’t think this is the case. Austen’s works, though often saddled with the unfair reputation of being “exclusive” and historically specific are, in fact, highly universal and relatable from nearly any perspective. Now granted, I’m prejudiced in her favor, but I think his success with so clearly delineating the intersection of his life experience and her fiction is a very strong argument for the universal relatability (probably not a real word) of her work. Perhaps the conclusions drawn are a bit trite at times; the subtitle of the work is the first clue that this is a tendency of the author. However, I found his readings of the work very illuminating, and the “intrusions” of memoir are actually not the bulk of the book, and more often operate to reinforce his readings, rather than the books highlighting the events of his life.

As I choose not to devote my life to only reading Jane Austen (though I read through the six major works once a year), I love when I can find a book about her work that engages me nearly as much as hers do. This one has its weaknesses, but if you like Jane Austen and are looking for a lay-person’s approach (though he is an English professor) to her work, I definitely recommend it. My only real complaint is that it was too short to do all of his observations justice.