Like just about every female English major on the planet, I am a Jane-ite. I read the books. I watched the movies. I watched the various miniseries. It was a screen version — the 1980 BBC adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” shown on Masterpiece Theater — that first sent me to read Austen as a youngster. As an adult in the 1990s, when the BBC began a new round of Austen adaptations, I bought the new P&P miniseries on VHS. I bought it again on DVD. I go to the movies for new adaptations and then I buy THEM on DVD. I own a gigantic Modern Library Jane Austen compendium and a couple of the novels as individual volumes. They’re free on Kindle so I have them there, too.
I have never, however, been a big consumer of the rest of Janeworld — the zombie mash-ups, the novels where Jane solves crimes, etc. I read The Jane Austen Book Club and thought it was OK. But generally, I prefer the original.
Only I realized recently that it has been quite some time since I’ve actually read the original. For the last decade and a half — yes, OK, since the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” — my Austen consumption has been almost entirely onscreen.
And that’s too bad, as William Deresiewicz reminded me in his appealing new memoir, “A Jane Austen Education.” He doesn’t diss the movies (well he does, a little; more on that later). But his focus is all on the books, the actual Austen, and the life lessons her small but significant output offered him.
The book is broken into six sections, one for each of the published novels, with a lesson or moral value he received from each. That can feel a little pat and I disagree with a couple of his choices — he has “Persuasion,” my favorite Austen novel, teaching him about true friendship. He makes a good case but, to me, that novel is all about constancy, and learning to have the courage to do what’s right for you, even if the people around you disapprove.