As a reader and admirer of Jane Austen’s works, I have been told on occasion that her works, as delightful as they may be, are not really relevant to today’s world, and are escapist or elitist, or basically “chick lit”. As pleasurable as I have found them, it must be said that the movie adaptations do little to counter this judgement. I was browsing through my library’s on-line catalogue, and ran across two books whose titles caught my attention:
A JANE AUSTEN EDUCATION How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz, and
A WALK WITH JANE AUSTEN A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith by Lori Smith
Both authors wrote memoirs that discuss their personal lives in relation to insights from Jane Austen’s life and novels. That said, it would be hard to find two more different people and life experiences. It is intriguing to note just how much each author was inspired by Jane Austen, and how they applied the insights they gained to their personal lives.
Mr. Deresiewicz studied Austen’s novels, and by extension, her life as part of a graduate program, ultimately including his findings in his dissertations. Facing emotional and physical problems, Ms. Smith took a walking tour in England, following Jane Austen’s life, seeking answers to questions of faith and personal fulfillment. Both found more than they bargained for. Both authors learned life lessons, internalized values and ideas, and acquired a knowledge of themselves that they had not had not previously had.
These books are, of necessity, very different. The authors are two completely different human beings, of completely different backgrounds. They approach Austen from different places in their lives, for completely different reasons. Mr. Deresiewicz was totally uninterested in reading Jane Austen, and Ms. Smith was an ardent fan. Both travel with Austen (Mr. Deresiewicz on an intellectual journey of maturation, and Ms. Smith on a literal journey of faith) and come away with unexpected knowledge of themselves.
After reading them and thinking about them, I went back and read some reviews of each. Interestingly, some reviewers commented on both authors’ self-indulgence and whining. Since these are memoirs of the authors’ experiences and emotions, I think one must expect to share some of their angst and less positive issues; it is unrealistic to expect all sweetness, light, and moments of ecstatic recognition. There were aspects of both authors that made me want to smack each, for completely different reasons. However, I found both books to be enjoyable and thought-provoking. Reading their experiences and viewpoints of one of my favorite authors has helped me to understand and clarify much of what I find appealing and relevant to my own life. The universal truths that Jane Austen addresses so subtly in her novels, and the way she lived her life, still have much to do with our lives today. Mr. Deresiewicz and Ms. Smith have demonstrated that in their respective memoirs. I recommend them both.
Deresiewicz, William. A JANE AUSTEN EDUCATION How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship and the Things that Really Matter. 2011: Penguin Press, New York, NY.
Smith, Lori. A WALK WITH JANE AUSTEN A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith. 2007: WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO.