Sunday, July 20, 2008


In an effort to repent of my smart-alecky remark about people who won't read sci-fi or fantasy, I decided to write about my deep and abiding love of Jane Austen books. I didn't read any Jane Austen until I had college roommates who wouldn't stop talking about Mr. Darcy. Talking or swooning, depending on the mood. I got sick of it and decided they must all be crazy people speaking some weird language. A few years ago, before the big film version of Pride and Prejudice came out, I decided it was about time I read me some Austen. Oh my. It was lovely. Now I knew what the crazy roommates were swooning about. So funny! So beautiful! Such characters!

I've stopped mocking those who love Mr. Darcy. I can see why they do. I can see why people read Jane Austen's books over and over again, why they keep making movies of the books, why there are books written about people who read Jane Austen's books. Wow, circular. I still haven't seen the pure versions of film adaptations of the books. I know, I'm not a true fan until I've seen Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. I'll get to it, I promise.

Speaking of true fans, I read "Austenland" by Shannon Hale this last week. Shannon Hale who wrote the Newberry Honor winning "Princess Academy" and the very good "The Goose Girl". I had so many different people suggest I read this book that I can't even remember who all they are, therefore nobody gets any credit. I'm no respector of persons that way. It's about 33-year-old graphic artist Jane, who is obsessed with Mr. Darcy. Specifically, Colin Firth's version of Mr. Darcy. She's had a bad string of relationships, outlined in summary at the beginning of each chapter, and the only man for her is Mr. Darcy/Colin Firth. Her great-aunt, on her death, wills her a trip to an exclusive Austen-esque resort in England, where women can go make-believe they live in that time in total cultural absorption. Any violation of the rules can get you sent packing, like having a cell phone in your possession or violating codes of conduct from that time period. Jane goes thinking that it'll finally put her obsession to rest after completely purging it from her system and then she can successfully swear off men forever. Yeah, right.

Yes, it's a romantic tale. She does meet several yummy specimens while there. It's also pretty funny and I think relatable. Who hasn't been in love with some unattainable version of the opposite sex? I have to admit, I had a little thing for Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo in the film version of "Romeo and Juliet" many years back. I'm not proud of it, but it happened. I got over it after "Titanic" was so abyssmal.

All in all, a very fun read and since there's lots of Jane Austen fans out there, I think it will be found in book clubs everywhere. Let the swooning commence!


  1. I was one of those many, many people who told you to read this! (plug for me!!) I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had such an enjoyable time with it!

  2. This book came highly recommended by several Shannon Hale fans so I was surprised when checking out her newest "Book of a Thousand Days" to hear the librarians abusing it. One view was that with her own Darcy fantasy she couldn't appreciate someone else's indulgence (doesn't make sense to me -- but I don't have a Darcy fantasy myself). When I did finally get my hands on a copy, I was delighted at the wit and playfulness mixed with just enough unpredictability to keep you guessing to the end. I was NOT disappointed and have added it to my list of would-like-to-owns!

    Oh, and just weighing in on Mr. Darcy portrayals -- I actually prefer Matthew Macfayden over Colin Firth. Does that make me less of an Austen fan? Maybe less of a purist....

  3. Caren, I do like Matthew Macfayden better too, but it's simply physical. I think he's better-looking than Colin Firth. I haven't actually watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice yet to have an informed opinion. It's on my list of things to watch.

  4. Alright, another one to add to my library list. I think Matthew McFadyen is hotter, but I think Colin Firth had a lot more time for the character to develop, so I like his Darcy better. Piano scene. That's all I'm going to say.

  5. The BBC version is great, and Colin Firth really epitomizes Mr. Darcy wonderfully. But if we're talking about developing a Darcy fixation, I prefer the Matthew Macfayden Darcy since he's more attractive and the shorter movie makes it easier to get the romance fix. And the walking-through-the-mist scene? How cool is that?!

    After so many hours I always feel let down in the BBC version that there's not some good kissing at the end. I know it's more realistic without it, but I'm glad they managed to work some kissing in at the end of the newer version. I have to say that for all of Austen's wonderful dialogue and character development, she sure falls flat in the final love scene when the heroine gets her man. She breezes through with a quick narrative and I'm left thinking, "That's it?! After all the anticipation you're just going to leave it up to my imagination?" So I'm glad we have movies to create more satisfying endings!

  6. Rach, you've got my curiosity peaked now. Too bad I'm number 6 on the holds list at the library. I bet I could hunt somebody down who has the DVDs.

    Caren, I thought the ending of the newer Pride and Prejudice was so perfect! My romantic heart nearly burst out of my chest! I saw it in the theater with my mom and I think she thought I was a bit goofy, but wow. Double wow.

    I have ranted for years that Austen's endings left something to be desired. The movies always seem to end it the way I wish it had. Especially Sense and Sensibility. I was so bummed in the book when it was so tidily wrapped up without a single romantic word. The movie was much, much better. Why is that, I wonder? Did Austen think it took something away from the ending? Was it not common in literature at the time? Man, a degree in English or Comparative Lit would come in handy right about now.

  7. I don't know about other authors of the time period, since I was more interested in studying contemporary literature when I was in college. In fact, I never read any Jane Austen until a couple of years ago when Andrew bought me her complete works for Christmas. It would be interesting to study her more in depth -- not just her life, but her works in context. And then I would know the answer to that question! Did she think those parts of the story were less important and didn't deserve the attention? Did she feel inadequate trying to portray those climactic scenes when emotion and affection would have been most intense? Or was it a modesty issue and she didn't think it was appropriate? No idea, but it's very disappointing as a reader!

  8. Jenny, I'm with you on Sense and Sensibility. I saw the movie first, and when I read the book I kept looking at the last page trying to figure out if someone had torn out the end, or if I had accidentally skimmed over the good part. The book was very unsatisfying. And I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was rooting for Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon. Such a contrast to Snape. When he carries Marianne through the rain...