This month’s selection was a quick, easy read that I stumbled across in the used book store: Austenland by Shannon Hale. The title caught my attention because I have long enjoyed reading Jane Austen’s works. There have been a number of novels written about people who have been caught up in the story’s Jane Austen wrote and this is one of those. Wendy agreed that this one might be fun so on I read!
Meet Jane – a young woman who is single and always seeming to meet men who just don’t live up to her dreams. Of course, when your dreams are centered around Pride and Prejudice and the “perfect” man of Mr. Darcy then meeting someone who is just right is just hard. Jane’s great-aunt sees through Jane’s troubles and decides to bequeath her a trip that will immerse her in the time period and style of Pride and Prejudice.
Jane takes the plunge, going to Austenland for 3 weeks, to be fully immersed in the time period that she has always seen as perfect. But once she arrives, she begins to question what she has always thought. Is Mr. Darcy actually perfect? Will Jane meet the right Mr. Darcy at Austenland or will she just meet Mr. Right? This is a sweet, fun read that helps us see that perfect is not always perfect and Mr. Right is probably completely different from your dreams.
There is a Reading Group Guide at the back of the book. The questions seem to be the same ones from LitLovers. I picked a few questions from there for this post.
1. Austenland opens, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirtysomething woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her” (1). How does this sentence set the stage for the novel? Compare it to the famous first sentence of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Which of these universal “truths” is actually true, if either?
Neither is true. It is clear that when making a broad statement that it does not fit every person or ever situation. Everyone experiences difficulties and nothing physical can make the determination that you need something or someone in your life.
2. 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?
This listing definitely shows a bit of who Jane is. We see a change but then, if we didn’t, we would be considering just how realistic this character is since age 12 to her present “thirtysomething” is a significant time period.
3. Jane observes of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice: “Stripped of Austen’s funny, insightful, biting narrator, the movie became a pure romance” (2). What would Austenland be like without Jane’s own funny, insightful, biting narration?
Without being able to follow Jane through Austenland, it would not be as real of a place. Jane helps us see life’s stumbles, how we weave in and out and around the people we come into contact with.
4. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, is known for her determination to marry off her daughters and for her frequent social blunders. How does Miss Charming, Jane’s fellow visitor to Pembrook Park, resemble Mrs. Bennet? What are some of Charming’s funny faux pas and verbal blunders?
Miss Charming is so anxious to be a part of the false world created at Pembrook Park that we see an overzealous, anxious person who doesn’t care a whit about those around her. She seems to overshadow the others as she pushes her way through the experience.
5. 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?
I believe great-aunt Carolyn’s purpose was to help Jane find the real world, to have authentic relationships, and to see herself for who she really was. I do believe that Jane was able to do much of that.
6. Jane comes to wonder what kind of fantasy world Jane Austen might have created for herself: “Did Austen herself feel this way? Was she hopeful? Jane wondered if the unmarried writer had lived inside Austenland with close to Jane’s own sensibility—amused, horrified, but in very real danger of being swept away” (123). Is it possible to guess at Austen’s attitude toward romance by reading her work? Why or why not?
I do not believe that we can guess at Austen’s attitude at all. She was a writer and most novel writers seem to be very good at creating an ideal land without it being remotely related to their own real world.
7. 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?
I can only imagine that writers would be horrified to find people who have immersed themselves so fully into the story and the imagined lands that their real lives are filled with troubles, false ideals, and broken relationships.
If you choose to read this, I hope you find it a simple, fun book. It is not as deep as these questions try to make it, which is probably the biggest issue I have with questions related to books and stories. Sometimes, it is just an enjoyable story and that is okay. I feel this way about this particular book. Just enjoy it.
I found the official site of Shannon Hale pretty funny but I also appreciated this Q&A about whether this book is appropriate for youngsters. (I would probably not mind an older teen reading it but it is not for my 13 year old.)
As a side note, I just saw that this was turned into a movie in 2013. Interesting. May have to check it out as something fun to watch.
Don’t forget to head over to Ladybug Daydreams to see what Wendy has to share about Austenland. We’ll see you next month for the next selection.