Jane and Me: Emma and Back to Basics

I read voraciously, and there’s nothing better than finding someone who enjoys a story as much as yourself. Jane Austen never gets dull, every time I run into her characters, I discover a new perspective on life.

Jane AustenSo, I was really thrilled to run into a handy, cute little book at my school library. A Jane Austen Education. The title instantly intrigued me, and I knew it was going to be hard to set down.

But, I’ve decided to blog about this book a bit differently. I’ll write a paragraph on each chapter, and then tie off this review as I finish the post. That way, I’ll have to think through each chapter, instead of developing an opinion after an hour or two of reading. (This is really forcing me to slow down as I read)

Now to the point….chapter one.

Background: I dragged the book back from the library, and mentally realized I didn’t have the time to read it one night. White Glove, annual dorm cleaning, is tomorrow. I’m also going to a mystery party…dressed as Nancy Drew. I’ll just read one chapter super fast. My roommates began to tear apart the room, a bag of chick-fil-a fries sits on the floor, and I pour into the first few lines. Stopping at one chapter is going to be difficult. No, excruciating.

Mr. William Deresiewicz is the author, his name is quite a mouthful. It’s strange to be reading a book on Jane Austen from a guy’s perspective. I remember being shocked my brother enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, I thought it was generally a female sort of reading. But this guy is an English professor, so he has some sort of authority on literature. Though, come to think of it, any guy who’s ever been in a relationship should appreciate something of Jane Austen.

But Mr. D, our author, had to read Emma in grad school. He was a skeptic, and generally thought the book was boring. I’ve not read Emma, though I know the plot fairly well from viewing the 4 hour BBC production. Mr D made me laugh as he related the inane, seemingly fruitless details Emma presents.

It wasn’t hard to disagree, out of all of Austen’s novels, Emma seems the most trivial.emma

The story is so common place, it’s name even suggests a lighthearted air. Emma, a country girl, who meddles with other people’s lives for entertainment. Like the author, Mr. D, I too was annoyed with Emma. Can’t she just leave people alone? She’s like the epitome of modern white gal, using people around her as entertainment in her fairly shallow existence.

Mr. D narrating his own personal life tale alongside his discovery of Emma is a twist. A grad student, stuck in a relationship rut, not sure where to go next. Not exactly Emma, but like Emma he had no appreciation for every day joys. He wanted more, and felt dissatisfied with life.

Jane Austen enjoyed life, and she was writing about the simple, inane, quite, English life. Not something most of us consider worthy of a 400 page novel. But that’s the brilliancy of Austen. Life isn’t a grand, sweeping off your-feet mountain climb. College is a day by day, turn in the papers, clean a dorm for white glove, insanity.
I tend to be discontent, hanging unto the edge of my seat, waiting for the next leap. But that’s what Jane Austen cautions against. Sit back, breathe, enjoy the company you’ve been given. Emma scolds our materialistic, romantic dream of following your heart.

The mantra ‘follow your heart’ may seem fairly modern, but at the turn of the 18th century, romanticism held culture in it’s grasp. While the phrase were different, the ideals were similar. Nature knows best, society and company is overbearing, and to be happy, you need to find your place in the world.

It’s really nonsense. If you’re discontent, finding a swashbuckling adventure isn’t going to help. Austen understood this, and she gently, humorously dispelled the romantic foolishness of her age.
Emma seems to suggest one main thing – get back to the basics.
Or as Mr. D titles his chapter on Emma, “Everyday Matters”

Well, I was going to write one post on this book. A paragraph per chapter, but now I’ve engaged an entire blog post to just one chapter. And yes, I have peeked at the second chapter before forcing myself to start on white glove cleaning. But I shall save all the details for next time. And in case you want a copy of Mr. D’s book, here’s an Amazon link  Jane Austen Education

In the meanwhile, your turn to share – what’s your favorite Austen novel?

And can you guess my favorite Austen book?

A Redheaded Texas Gal. I love the woods and thrive where there’s green grass and room to grow. I dream of living in a used book store and wearing period costumes to work everyday. In the meantime, I’m studying Journalism and Political Science, and trying to follow Jesus wherever He leads.