|From Madison Public Library|
I came late to Jane Austen. One of my best friends in high school gifted me The Collected Works of Jane Austen but it was still a year before I cracked it open. I think I hesitated because I had tried years before to read Sense and Sensibility and had been confused. Jane’s biting wit and social commentary was a bit above my head at that point. So, the second time I tried to read Austen, I went with her best-known work, Pride and Prejudice. I was not disappointed. Not only did I fall in love with the spirited and sassy Lizzie and her brooding yet secretly thoughtful love Mr. Darcy, I fell in love with witty and biting tone of Miss Austen. Her grasp of her society and the world she had to navigate to this day never fails to impress me…and make me want to smack upside the head anyone who thinks Jane was simply a romance writer.
It wasn’t until Bath, my semester abroad when I took a class on Jane Austen, that I finally fell head over hills with Jane’s work. I lived in a city she lived in, walked the streets she did, visited Chawton and saw the very room and table where she composed all the books I fell in love with that semester. While Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel (and her most romantic, seriously Captain Wentworth, SWOON), I have always had a soft spot of Pride and Prejudice, my first Austen novel. And first Austen movie. And first Austen fan-fiction novel. As you can see, I am almost a Janeite.
I say almost because Shannon Hale’s Austenland just illustrated where I draw the line. Austenland introduces us to Jane Hayes, a woman who has idolized Mr. Darcy to the detriment of any men she meets in real life. When her great aunt notices this, she calls Jane out on living in a fantasy and to prove her point, leaves Jane a month stay at a fancy “Austenland” resort in England in her will. So, Jane goes back to 1816 and finds her own Mr. Knightley and Mr. Wickham cum Frank Churchill. Jane is a fun character to watch grow throughout the novel and watching her struggle with reality versus the fantasy she finds herself in was entertaining and also enlightening. One thing I definitely learned was there is no way I would ever go on a vacation like this. A literary tour of England where I visit lots of country manors? Yes, sign me up (why I think I adored Me and Mr. Darcy, I basically wanted to go on that vacation of hers) but making me wear 1816 clothing, keep to their timetable and give up my cell phone? I think that is going too far for even me. I am a thoroughly 21st century girl when it comes to things like that.
That said, Austenland is one of the better Austen-inspired novels I’ve read put in the modern day. The characters are engaging and the plot believable enough for me to buy the ending. I do have better luck with the modern takes on Austen that some of the continuations of her novels. See, basically a Janeite and proud of it people! But seriously, at least read Persuasion for me. You won’t be disappointed.