by Shannon Hale
In a Nutshell
We've always wanted to go a resort based on each of our favorite books. We've already hit Harry Potter Land and that decaying Bible park, but we've still got a ton of books to go. Okay, we'd stay away from a Hunger Games resort (probably more of a "death trap" than a "resort"), but who wouldn't want to attend a party at a Gatsby-style theme park?
If only Austenland were a real place. Austenland is what you get when you combine Jane Austen—author extraordinaire of Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and the book that launched a thousand mini-series: Pride and Prejudice—with, well, land. Beautiful land in the English countryside, complete with well-kept gardens and majestic homes, to be exact.
The 2007 book Austenland was written by Newberry Medal-winning author Shannon Hale (who is Stephenie Meyer's BFF!). The plot centers on one New York City resident, Jane Hayes, who is lucky enough to visit this magical fantasyland. As Jane discovers, Austenland is replete with Regency romance, ballroom dancing, and enough Jane Austen references to fill a Brit Lit course. Not everything is what it seems, though.
Austenland's story stems from Jane's (and a good half of the world's population's, give or take a billion) obsession with Austen's classic bad boy: Mr. Darcy. More specifically, the dripping wet version of Mr. Darcy who emerged from a lake in the form of Colin Firth in the BBC mini-series.
But since Austenland is a resort with paid employees, our girl Jane has a tough time figuring out what's what, who's who, and who's really in love with her (rather than simply flirting with her to make a buck). Her first steamy love affair in Austenland soon fizzles out. Luckily, Jane, like the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, eventually gets her happy ending in the form of her very own overconfident, brooding hero: Henry Jenkins, a.k.a. Mr. Nobley. Looks like Shannon Hale knows how to turn a good tale (without cheesy rhymes like ours).
Austenland the movie stars Keri Russell as Jane Hayes and Jane Seymour as the persnickety proprietress of Pembrook Park (a.k.a, Austenland), Mrs. Wattlesbrook. Do any scenes in this movie live up to those classic, steamy moments of Pride and Prejudice? Guess you'll have to find out for yourselves.
But if you want your own, all-expenses-paid trip to the Original Austenland, we suggest you grab a copy of the book. Hey, at least you won't have to pack a corset.
Why Should I Care?
We won't judge you if you've fallen in love with a fictional character. Why else would you keep reading novels? Mr. Darcy. Heathcliff. Harry Potter. These are characters who jump off the page and right into your heart. In a romantic way, not in an Aliens chest-parasite kind of way.
So we think Austenland is worth a read because it celebrates our obsession with fictional characters. While we hope we never get as crazy about any made-up person as Jane Hayes does about Mr. Darcy, it's always fun to imagine what it would be like if our favorite fictional heroes were real people. (Note: the existence of Trekkies.)
Furthermore, Jane's story is the ultimate romantic fantasy. Like the best Austen heroines, Jane is optimistic to a fault. She never, ever gives up on love (even though she says she will). And even when this admirable optimism gets her in trouble, Jane gives us hope that maybe one day we'll all get our own happy endings, Harry Potter and Hermione Granger-style.