The official title of his talk was "Becoming a Hero: Being a Man in Austen's World"with this introductory blurb: "What does it mean to be a man in the female world of Austen's novels -- and readers? Prof. Deresiewicz will discuss his experiences as an Austen-reading man: his journey to, and through, the novels; the reactions he's gotten as an Austen-lover from other men (and from women); and how the novels taught him how to be a better man."
I must confess that I came to the session with a bit of skepticism, I had very briefly glanced at the promotional text for his book when it was published earlier this year, and nothing had caught my eye that made me feel it was important that I read it. But I knew from having long ago read and admired Deresiewicz's 2004 scholarly book Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets that he was a first rate scholar who had excellent insight into the subtler aspects of Jane Austen's artistry (even if he was not there with me on the existence of "shadow stories" in her novels).
Well, long story short, his presentation was spell binding, and the q&a, which he generously stayed with for almost as long as the presentation itself, was even more interesting, as at least 20 of the 200 people present had something to ask or say, and it became an amazingly rich impromptu discussion that he adeptly moderated with a minimum of ego or defensiveness.
So, at the end, I went up to him and, since confession is good for the soul, I confessed to him that I think I had been a little jealous of him being a man who had written a well received book about Jane Austen, and here I was still not having written the final draft of my own book about Jane Austen. In the end, he left me with a renewed sense of urgency to get mine done, but equally important, a deeper sense of what it meant for a man to write a book about Jane Austen---I will aspire to the role model he set on Saturday night, for how to handle the complicated reactions that it triggers.
In the meanwhile, I will positively read his book carefully, and I urge you all to do the same!
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