Lori suggested 2 books she’d recently read for this month’s book club, and of her two options, I chose Austenland by Shannon Hale. This was a book I’d heard a little about, but never picked up. When I discovered the Overdrive app for my phone and iPad (a digital library that partners with real libraries to offer digital content – ebooks and audiobooks – to patrons), and learned that my home library was one of the partners, and that Austenland was available as an audiobook, it was a no brainer for me. I could listen to the book while I knitted and not have to choose between the two pastimes. Score!
Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Predjudice.
When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined.
Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own? (From the publisher.)
For my post, I’ve taken a few questions from LitLovers, but Lori says that they seem to be the same questions that were found in the back of her copy of the book. Since I had an audiobook, I didn’t have that feature.
Austenland, besides chronicling Jane’s stay at Pembrook Park, lists all thirteen “boyfriends” she’s had in her lifetime. How well does the reader get to know Jane’s past? How much has she changed from her first relationship at age twelve to the one that is now just beginning?
Hearing about some of those past relationships were my favorite parts of the book. It was really interesting to hear about her Jane’s past and discover how they helped to shape her current self. And of course she changed – who wouldn’t over the course of 20 years? It would be silly if she hadn’t.
Jane observes of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice: “Stripped of Austen’s funny, insightful, biting narrator, the movie became a pure romance.” What would Austenland be like without Jane’s own funny, insightful, biting narration?
Because I’m not a huge Austen fan (out of ignorance, not necessarily dislike), I don’t think I could have handled this novel without Jane’s personality. I’m afraid I would have found it dull and awful if she’d been a true, non-rule-breaking participant in Pembrook Park, aka Austenland.
Jane’s great-aunt Carolyn set the whole Pembrook Park adventure into motion. What do you think Carolyn’s intentions were in sending Jane to this Austenland? Do you think Jane fulfilled those expectations?
Carolyn left Jane the trip to Pembrook Park in her will only after a visit with Jane six months earlier showed her to be a fan of Jane Austen – particularly the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. They had a bit of a heart to heart talk wherein Aunt Carolyn learned that Jane was more in love with Mr. Darcy than she was interested in finding someone real. Knowing that, I think she sent Jane to Pembrook Park with the hope that she’d find herself. It was an effort to allow her to explore this interest of hers while combining it with the reality of the now. If I’m right about Carolyn’s expectations, I think Jane passed them with flying colors.
Jane walks away from Nobley and Martin at the airport with the parting words, “Tell Mrs. Wattlesbrook I said tallyho” (186). Why does Jane enjoy her last line so much? What does she mean by “tallyho”?
Mrs. Wattlesbrook is quite prim and proper. She takes her theme park (for lack of a better term) to huge extremes, and not just the time period. She herself has taken on the role of a nobleperson of the era. Tally-ho is the kind of phrase that’s used by commoners – lower class people. During Jane’s stay at Pembrook Park, she proved herself to be just that time and time again. I think this line is just her way of taking one last jab at Mrs. Wattlesbrook.
What might Jane Austen think of Austenland, if she were alive today? Could she have possibly anticipated how influential her novels would become, even for twenty-first-century audiences? Could she ever have imagined a fan like Jane Hayes?
If Jane Austen was anything like most current authors, I think she’d be flattered by novels like Austenland. Because “fan fiction” is quite a large genre of its own nowadays, this is just a new take on it. As for whether she could have anticipated her novels’ influence… maybe. But it was probably more of a hope than an anticipation. Would she have imagined a fan like Jane Hayes? Again, maybe… but hoping more than expecting or imagining. (As a former fiction writer, take my word for this – it’s what we all hope for.)
I have a few book ideas in mind for next month’s book club. I’ll either update this post or make a new one (or both) once Lori picks from my list. But before you go, make sure to hit up Lori’s blog and see what she thought of Austenland.