Study Guide

Austenland Themes

  • Love

    Love. These four letters encompass an emotion so complicated, writers have been writing about it for years. From Aphrodite, goddess of love, to Stephenie Meyer's lovelorn vampires and werewolves (cough cough Twilight cough cough), and bajillions of books in between, fictional characters are always trying find love… and usually stepping in it when they least expect it. Love happens. Just like dog poo. Jane Austen might not have been a goddess, but she wrote some of the most enduring romantic books in the English language. Sure, Pride and Prejudice might not be as steamy as a Harlequin romance, but it's gotten tons of women hot under the bodice for its dark and brooding hero, Mr. Darcy. Jane Hayes of Austenland is no different. She's not just trying to find love, she's trying to find her one, true Mr. Darcy.

    Questions About Love

    1. Does Jane love Henry? Does Henry love Jane? Why or why not?
    2. Did Martin love Jane or was he only paid to love Jane?
    3. How does Jane's love for the fictional Mr. Darcy compare to her love for the real Henry?

    Chew on This

    Jane wouldn't have been happy if she'd fallen for Martin, because she'd constantly be comparing him to Mr. Darcy, and a gardener can never live up to a gentleman.

    Jane won't ever be truly happy, with Henry or with anyone else, until she gives up on the idea of a real-life Mr. Darcy.

  • Identity

    When we go to Six Flags Great Adventure, we don't have to put on an alternate identity. Unless you count "crazy tourist screaming our heads off on the highest roller coaster on the east coast." Austenland isn't your average theme park. It's more like a resort, for one thing. And it's a resort with a requirement beyond the small fortune it takes to stay there: you have to stay in character.

    It's like a sleepaway camp for period actors in training. Everyone there is someone else, and Jane has to do her best to fit in. Austenland is, like, the one place where you're encouraged to not be yourself. Well, that, and maybe high school.

    Questions About Identity

    1. How much of Mr. Nobley's personality is an act, and how much is the real Henry showing through?
    2. Are Jane Hayes and Jane Erstwhile different people? What do you think are the similarities and differences between the two Janes?
    3. Why doesn't Jane choose to change her identity at Austenland as much as Miss Charming and Miss Heartwright do?

    Chew on This

    Jane goes to Austenland to get her naïve obsession with 19th century love out of her system, but she ends up strengthening it.

    Jane wouldn't have fallen in love with Henry if his actual identity didn't match the identity of his character—Mr. Nobley—so closely.

  • Lies and Deceit

    We've always wanted to host our own murder mystery. No, don't call the cops. We're talking about one of those house party games, where you invite over all of your friends, dress up in funky clothes and hats like you're at the Kentucky Derby, and, when one of your friends pretends to be killed, everyone else has to figure out who did it… without ever breaking character. Austenland is kind of like one of those games, except no one dies. Although the ladies are so melodramatic, anyone could keel over of a broken heart at any moment. In Austenland, just like in a murder mystery, no one is who she says she is, and everyone is playing the game with their proverbial cards close to their chests. At least, we're assuming they are. It would be hard to win at whist if everyone could see your hand.

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. What's the fun of going to Austenland if everything is just an act? Do you think that you'd forget, over time, that you were acting if you went to Austenland?
    2. Is it wrong for Martin to deceive Jane, or is his put-on affection a fair part of the Austenland experience?
    3. Why does Jane assume that Henry is authentic in the end, when he had been an actor the whole time, just like everyone else (including Martin)?
    4. What is Jane comfortable with when it comes to acting? What doesn't she feel comfortable doing?

    Chew on This

    The other guests of Austenland (not Jane) have been there before, so they're more at ease with playing characters.

    Jane is mad at Martin for deceiving her because even though he breaks character to have a fling with her, his "real identity" is still a lie; he's a lie within a lie.

  • Society and Class

    Jane Austen's novels were often scathing critiques of the social mores of the timeAustenland isn't a scathing critique of anything, but it uses the archaic class structures of Austen's day to good comedic effect. Where else but Austenland can you find servants who should be seen but not heard, people who talk down to each other because of their economic differences, women who want to find a man who is rich and in good social standing…? Hmm, maybe things haven't changed that much from Austen's day after all.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. How does the class structure at Austenland mimic the class structure from Jane Austen's time period?
    2. How does Mrs. Wattlesbrook exploit the real-life social class statuses of its guests and employees?
    3. Is Jane ever judged for being lower class in real life?

    Chew on This

    Mrs. Wattlesbrook would fit right in in Jane Austen's day; she's a woman who would maintain strict class barriers between herself and the commoners.

    Jane uses Mrs. Wattlesbrook's insistence on maintaining a good reputation against her in the end. A bad article about Austenland would tarnish her good name, and a woman with a tarnished reputation is basically worthless.

  • Tradition and Customs

    Some traditions have remained long-standing throughout many years, like having dinner with family on holidays or putting milk in your cereal. Some, however, have faded away. Like wearing wool bathing suits to the beach, and not going outside without a bonnet. Thankfully, Austenland is here to revive some of the long-buried customs of the 19th century… and to remind us why they died out in the first place. It might be fun to wear a corset every once in a while, but it's only fun until someone's ribs get broken.

    Questions About Tradition and Customs

    1. What are the customs from Austen's day that have to be observed in Austenland?
    2. What difficulties does Jane face in adapting to a lady's life of leisure?
    3. Would you stay at Austenland voluntarily if you knew you had to follow all of these rules? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    While our social customs may have changed between Jane Austen's time and today, these customs still serve basically the same purpose: not making a fool of yourself in public.

    Jane has an easier time learning the customs of Regency England than she would have in the actual 19th century, not just because it's all a game, but also because she's lucky enough to have a written guide.

  • Competition

    Romance novels today are fraught with daring duels, kidnappings, high-speed chases, and more perilous situations. In Jane Austen's day, things were a little more subdued. Heck, they couldn't have had a duel while wearing all those petticoats, even if they tried. But they still knew how compete. Whether it was at the card table or in the game of love, the women of Austenland must always bring their A-games if they want to win some grade-A grooms. Let your guard down for a second, and you'll end up a decrepit old spinster (i.e., thirty and unmarried) before you know it.

    Questions About Competition

    1. How must Jane compete to find herself a suitable partner? How does her competition compare to that of Jane Austen's heroines?
    2. Does Austenland encourage competition?
    3. Why do the women compete with each other for the gentlemen's affections if they know it's all an act?
    4. Is the competition to find a partner fiercer on the men's side or the women's side?

    Chew on This

    To Jane, love has always been a game. The object? Find her own Mr. Darcy. So she has no problem getting into the competitive spirit of Austenland.

    Just like in the 19th century, the dames at Austenland fight over their suitors with wit and sassy body language... at least until they leave the resort.

  • Dissatisfaction

    Jane Hayes of Austenland has a decent job, a decent apartment, and a recently dead aunt who just left her with a fabulous vacation. What does she have to be dissatisfied about? Well, she's unhappy about the same thing most Austenian heroines are unsatisfied with: their lack of a man.

    This level of dissatisfaction is so extreme for our Jane that she's almost retreated into a fantasyland in her head. She's obsessed with Pride and Prejudice. More specifically: Mr. Darcy. Even more specifically: Colin Firth. Sure, we've devoted some of our brainpower to this man as well, but Jane takes it to the extreme. No wonder she's dissatisfied with her thirteen ex-boyfriends. What normal person can live up to Hollywood's standards of perfection?

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. What is Jane dissatisfied with in her real life that compels her to go to Austenland?
    2. Are all the guests at Austenland dissatisfied about the same things?
    3. Why is Jane dissatisfied with all of the boyfriends on her list, and how is Henry different?

    Chew on This

    Jane brings a lot of her dissatisfaction upon herself. If she would stop obsessing over Mr. Darcy, she might be able to have a happy, and realistic, relationship.

    On the flip side, Jane is right not to lower her standards for love. Staying with Martin would have meant settling for something less, and she never would have gotten her dramatic happy ending (with Henry).

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Jane Austen was good at many things. Believable characters. Social critique. And hilarious comic relief. Shannon Hale has picked up the comic relief part, and runs with it in Austenland. As if the concept itself isn't ridiculous enough—a Jane Austen-themed resort where everyone pretends to live in Regency England—the women who go there are even more foolish. Miss Charming has the worst British accent since Madonna married Guy Ritchie and Jane Hayes changes her mind more times than Hamlet. We're surprised anyone at Austenland can keep a straight face.

    Questions About Foolishness and Folly

    1. Is Jane's obsession with Mr. Darcy more foolish or charming? Why?
    2. How does Austenland encourage foolishness?
    3. Is romance possible for Jane without some sort of fun, foolishness, or folly?

    Chew on This

    The whole concept of Austenland is foolish, so it's no wonder the people it attracts are total goofballs.

    Jane has always been a little foolish. Anyone that obsessed with anything has to be. So Austenland is great for her because it allows her to flaunt this side of herself, rather than simply being ashamed of it all the time.