Saturday, August 25, 2007

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single thirty-something woman must be in want of Jane Austen

A while ago, I mentioned my love for anything resembling Jane Austen. Sequels, re-tellings and modernized versions of her works as well as novels with Jane Austen as the main character continue to be enormously popular. Lately, there seems to be a rash of chick-lit fiction featuring women obsessed with all things Austen, so I decided to check out a couple of titles.

Austenland by Shannon Hale is about a young woman, Jane Hayes, who is a thirty-something single career woman. Obsessed with Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy (specifically the BBC's movie version starring Colin Firth), Jane thinks she will never meet a man that could compare to him. When her great aunt dies, bequeathing her a three week vacation at a secretive Austen-like resort, Jane heads off to England. This resort is set up to be just like 19th century Victorian England. Jane is required to dress in the appropriate costume of the time, follow the customs, etc. During her stay, she snogs one of the servants (which is absolutely forbidden), and also engages in flirtation with one of the gentlemen. Since both men are paid actors at the resort, Jane is unsure whether these encounters are real, or just part of the act. Blah blah blah. Happily ever after. The characters who visit the resort are quite amusing, as is the idea of such a vacation. This is a fun, light read, but it's forgettable.

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler has another thirty-something single woman who is obsessed with Jane Austen. Courtney has just broken off her engagement with Frank, after she finds him canoodling with their cake decorator. After a night of drowning her sorrows in Pride and Prejudice, Courtney wakes up to find herself in another body, in another time. She wakes up in 1813 England as Jane Mansfield. Jane is 30 and still single, and has a mother who is more concerned with marrying her off than with her happiness. When Courtney finally realizes she is not dreaming, she must act the part or risk having Mrs. Mansfield toss her into an asylum. Apparently Jane had been having some sort of secret fling with one of the servants. Meanwhile, her mother has been trying to marry her off to Mr. Edgeworth, the neighborhood's most eligible widow, and it seems that Jane had also been having an on-again, off-again kind of relationship with him. Courtney/Jane tries to figure out how she got to 1813 and how she will get back to her real life, while keeping up the pretense of being Jane. Courtney/Jane tries to take advantage of the situation and enjoy what 19th century England has to offer, and slowly she begins to think of herself as Jane. Blah Blah Blah. Happily ever after. The author does a wonderful job with the descriptions of country life, London and Bath and Courtney/Jane's reactions to common 19th century practices (such as bloodletting, communal bathing and chaperons for a 30 year old woman) is amusing. However, I was a little confused with the whole switching bodies part. Why and how did it happen and where is the real Jane? Courtney/Jane ponders these questions, but there don't really seem to be any answers. In the end, it is also somewhat ambiguous as to whether Courtney gets back to her real life or if she stays in 19th century England. Maybe that's the point. In any case, it was entertaining even though it has some weak points.


Heidi said...

Jane Austen's Guide to Dating by Laura Henderson is also a fun read--even if you don't read it for the dating tips (which I didn't) It has examples from real life relationships as well as Austen characters' relationships and a quiz or two at the back to determine which character you are most like (though I think we Austen addicts have pretty much already done that for ourselves!)and which male protagonist-type you are most suited to.

Running With Books said...

Thanks for the tip Heidi, and thanks for reading!