|From Madison Public Library|
It wasn't until Bath, my semester abroad when I took a class on Jane Austen, that I finally fell head over hills with Jane's work. I lived in a city she lived in, walked the streets she did, visited Chawton and saw the very room and table where she composed all the books I fell in love with that semester. While Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel (and her most romantic, seriously Captain Wentworth, SWOON), I have always had a soft spot of Pride and Prejudice, my first Austen novel. And first Austen movie. And first Austen fan-fiction novel. As you can see, I am almost a Janeite.
I say almost because Shannon Hale's Austenland just illustrated where I draw the line. Austenland introduces us to Jane Hayes, a woman who has idolized Mr. Darcy to the detriment of any men she meets in real life. When her great aunt notices this, she calls Jane out on living in a fantasy and to prove her point, leaves Jane a month stay at a fancy "Austenland" resort in England in her will. So, Jane goes back to 1816 and finds her own Mr. Knightley and Mr. Wickham cum Frank Churchill. Jane is a fun character to watch grow throughout the novel and watching her struggle with reality versus the fantasy she finds herself in was entertaining and also enlightening. One thing I definitely learned was there is no way I would ever go on a vacation like this. A literary tour of England where I visit lots of country manors? Yes, sign me up (why I think I adored Me and Mr. Darcy, I basically wanted to go on that vacation of hers) but making me wear 1816 clothing, keep to their timetable and give up my cell phone? I think that is going too far for even me. I am a thoroughly 21st century girl when it comes to things like that.
That said, Austenland is one of the better Austen-inspired novels I've read put in the modern day. The characters are engaging and the plot believable enough for me to buy the ending. I do have better luck with the modern takes on Austen that some of the continuations of her novels. See, basically a Janeite and proud of it people! But seriously, at least read Persuasion for me. You won't be disappointed.