Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, September 1, 2014

Reading: A Jane Austen Education


I am not sure where I discovered the existence of this book.  Maybe Modern Mrs. Darcy?  I put myself on the library's waiting list.  I read it.  I enjoyed it so much I know it is a book I will buy both to share and to read again and again.

William Deresiewicz does a brilliant job of applying lessons from the novels to his real life situations.  Each novel has a corresponding lesson on: Everyday Matters, Growing Up, Learning to Learn, Being Good, True Friends, and Falling in Love.  I could probably devote a number of blog posts to wonderful quotes from the book.  My first focus is that “Falling in Love” chapter.  Whilst not my favorite book, I enjoyed the lessons learned from Sense and Sensibility:
If Elinor refused to admit that what she felt for Edward was love, that was only because, unlike her histrionic sister, she wanted to preserve her privacy.  Such feelings were too precious to violate by talking about.

Her creator felt the same.  Of course her lovers were passionate – even Elinor and Edward, as I now saw: more deeply, more truly passionate than a butterfly like Willoughby could ever understand.  All the more reason, then, to shield their intimacy from our prying eyes.  The most remarkable thing about the love scenes with which her novels culminated, I realized – another thing the movies never stand for – was that she always turned away at the moment of truth.  The hero was about to propose, the heroine was about to accept – their passion was about to be revealed at last – and Austen knew we wanted nothing more than to hear the words that sealed their happiness.  And yet she always teasingly withheld them.  “In what manner he expressed himself,” we read in Sense and Sensibility, “and how he was received, need not be particularly told.”  “What did she say?” she asked of Emma.  “Just what she ought, of course.  A lady always does.”  It was too private; it was none of our business.  And that was the most romantic thing of all.
You could say that I dislike so many contemporary novels and movies because I’m a bit of a snob.  It might be true. 

It would be more true to say that I dislike the “nothing held back” style of modern books and films.  With today’s novels, there’s nothing left to the imagination.  There’s no aura of mystery.  The descriptions of “love” are sometimes more anatomical than romantic.  Even with the less in-your-face forms of “nothing held back,” I prefer Austen’s way of doing things.  It’s like the difference between anticipating a fun event and admitting a bit of a letdown once it has arrived.  When writers “teasingly withhold” the details, we are left with the delicious anticipation and none of the letdown.

I recommend Deresiewicz’s book.  I wish that Austen doubters or Austen scoffers would pick it up.

For the record, here is what I consider to be one of the most romantic scenes in film.  Very emotionally charged, without being coarsely revealing:

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