xoxoxoe, #20, A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz, #CBR3

Here is an excerpt from my review of my #20 book, A Jane Austen Education, by William Deresiewicz. It’s part of the BlogHer Book Club.

Deresiewicz finishes up with Sense and Sensibility. He believes Austen’s lesson here is about love, real love that grows and changes, along with passion, not as a substitute. The book contrasts the Dashwood sisters and their approaches to life and love. Elinor is the serious sister who thinks of the consequences of everything, and Marianne is the impulsive romantic heroine who lives for true love and emotion. Deresiewicz connects to Marianne (he likes Austen’s feisty ladies best) and admits to being a bit bored by Elinor’s romance with Edward, as well as the “surprise” person Marianne ultimately ends up with. Here, I think he has missed the mark a bit. I don’t think that Austen was trying to surprise her readers with their loves or their choices. Her prose is economical, but all the clues are there if you listen hard enough. Elinor is a very reserved person, but her admission to Marianne of her interest in Edward is, for her, quite passionate:

“I have seen a great deal of him, have studied his sentiments, and heard his opinion on subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole, I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed, his enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively, his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate and pure … I do not attempt to deny that I think very highly of him — that I greatly esteem, that I like him.”

Marianne and Deresiewicz both groan, Deresiewicz even calling her words “tepid.” But if you read between the lines I think that Austen was having Elinor reveal herself the only way she knew how, and that Elinor probably felt very naked in that moment. She was admitting she cared for someone that she probably could never marry, as she was poor and he had not many prospects, either. She may not have been hit by the “thunderbolt” like her sister, but she was standing on the precipice.


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