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Austenland by Shannon Hale.

17552626

Title: Austenland.
Author: Shannon Hale.
Genre: Fiction, chick lit, romance, humour.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2007.
Summary: Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen; or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It's all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

My rating: 6.5/10
My review:


♥ Some voices get hard and tight with age, some rough like broken glass. Her voice was soft, sand beat by waves till it’s as fine as powdered sugar.

♥ “Besides being witty and funny and maybe the best novel ever written, [Pride and Prejudice]’s also the most perfect romance in all of literature and nothing in life can ever measure up, so I spend my life limping in its shadow.”

♥ “Harold and I had a miserable marriage. He didn’t talk much and was busy with work. I got bored and was rich enough to date delectable young men on the side. After a time, Harold fooled around, too, mostly to hurt me, I think. It wasn’t until I was too old to attract the playboys anymore that I turned to the man next to me and realized how much I loved his face. We had two blissful years together before his heart took him out. I was such a fool, Jane. I couldn’t see what was real until time had washed away everything else.” She was matter-of-fact, the pain behind the words worn out long ago.

♥ She stared. He had a new haircut. His white blond hair was now spiked with an incredible amount of pomade that smelled of raspberries, a do that could only be carried off with true success by a fifteen-year-old boy wielding an impressive and permanent glare. Todd was grinning. And forty-three.

♥ Molly cleared her throat and adopted her most gentle tone. “Have you noticed that you refer to any guy you’ve ever been on a date with as a ‘boyfriend’?”

Jane had noticed it. In fact, she’d numbered all her boyfriends from one to thirteen and referred to them in her mind by their number. She was relieved now that she’d never mentioned that part to Molly.

“It’s not really normal to do that”, Molly said. “It’s kind of… extreme. Kind of slaps expectation on a relationship before it’s begun.”

“Uh-huh”, was all Jane could muster in response, even to her best friend. This was a raw, pin-poking subject. A couple of years ago, she’d’ toyed with having a therapist, and though in the end she’d decided she just wasn’t a therapy kind of a gal, she did come out of it understanding one thing about herself: At a very young age, she had learned how to love from Austen. And according to her immature understanding at the time, in Austen’s world there was no such thing as a fling. Every romance was intended to lead to marriage, every flirtation just a means to find that partner to cling to forever. So for Jane, when each romance ended with hope still attached, it felt a brutal as divorce. Intense much, Jane? Oh yes. But what can you do?

♥ “But I don’t want to have to settle.”

“You always do. Every single guy you ever dated was a settle.”

She sat up. “None of them loved me, did they? Ever. Some of them liked me or I was convenient but… Am I truly that pathetic?”

Molly smoothed her hair. “No, of course not”, she said’ which meant, Yes, but I love you anyway.

♥ "Tell me. How do you know that Phillip is the one?”

Molly picked at some dried spaghetti sauce on her pants. “He… he makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world, every day of my life.”

She’d never admit it, but those words made Jane’s tear ducts sting. “Wow. You’ve never told me that. Why didn’t you ever tell me that before?!”

Molly started to shrug, then stopped. “It’s not something you tell your single best friend. It’d be like rubbing your nose in the poop of my happiness.”

♥ • On meeting, a gentleman is presented to the lady first because it is considered an honor for him to meet her.

• The eldest daughter in the family is called “Miss” plus surname, while any younger daughters are “Miss” plus Christian and surname. For example, Jane, the eldest, was Miss Bennet, while her sister was Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

♥ Jane’s mother often told the story of how until Jane was eight years old, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she still answered with conviction, “I want to be a princess.” Perhaps because of her mother’s pleasant mockery, by her adolescence, Jane had learned to hide her desires for such wonderful impossibilities as becoming a princess, or a supermodel, or Elizabeth Bennet. Bury and hide them until they were so profound and neglected as to somehow be true.

♥ “When eating fish, use your fork in your right hand and a piece of bread in your left. Just so. No knives with fish or fruit, because the knives are silver and the acids in those foods tarnish. Remember, you must never talk to the servants during dinner. Don’t even mention them, don’t make eye contact. Think of it as demeaning to them, if you must, but find a way to obey this society’s rules, Miss Erstwhile. It is the only way to truly appreciate the Experience. I need not warn you again about behavior with regard to the opposite sex. You are a young, single woman and should never be unchaperoned with a gentleman indoors and only out-of-doors so long as you are in motion—riding, walking, or in a carriage, that is. No touching, besides the necessary social graces, such as taking a man’s hand as he helps you down from a carriage or his arm as he escorts you into dinner. No familiar talk, no intimate questions. I am to understand from past clients that when romance blooms under the tension of these restrictions, it is all the more passionate.”

♥ “The minuet is a ceremonious, graceful dance”, said Mrs. Wattlesbrook, closing her eyes to enjoy the music the pianist drew from the keys. “It commences each ball as a means of introducing all the members of the society. Each couple takes turns in the center performing the figures. Curtsy to the audience, Miss Erstwhile, now to your partner, and begin.”

♥ “The top couple moves up and down the center and the rest wait”, explained Mrs. Wattlesbrook. “In a ball with many couples, one dance can take half an hour.”

“So that’s why Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy had time to talk”, Jane said, “as they stood there waiting their turn at the top.”

♥ The way his tone slid over his words gave him a delightful, roguish appeal that made Jane want to kiss him on the spot. Or the lips, whichever was closer.

♥ Jane sat beside Colonel Andrews. He had a dashing smile. It nearly dashed right off his face.

♥ In all the years Jane had fantasized about an Austenland, she never considered how, once inside its borders, she would feel like an outsider.

♥ She should’ve gone to her chambers. There was that Regency rule that single women weren’t supposed to walk out alone except in the morning, but Jane had a headache, and nothing goes worse with a headache than rules.

♥ She wandered the garden path (so as not to get grass stains on her hem), and gave up a halfhearted hope that Colonel Andrews would come looking for her. Without hope, it was impossible to fantasize. That was her problem, Jane decided—she’d always lugged around an excess of hope. If only she were more of a pessimist, she wouldn’t have to grapple with these impossible whimsies and wouldn’t be here now, forlorn and pathetic in make-believe England.

♥ After Martin’s room, life in the drawing room seemed dulled and fuzzy—waiting for the gentlemen while chatting about nothing, welcoming the gentlemen and continuing to chat about nothing, every topic harmless and dry, everyone holding themselves a careful arm’s distance away.

What a crock, she thought. What absolute boredom and inanity. It can’t really have been like this. And if it was, why didn’t all those Regency women go insane?

♥ And now the silence made her feel as though she were standing on a seesaw, waiting for the weight to drop on the other side.

Then she smelled it. The musty, acrid, sour, curdled, metallic, decaying odor of ending. This wasn’t just a first fight. She’d been in this position too many times not to recognize the signs.'

♥ Miss Heartwright, even when sitting straight with a Regency woman’s wood-plank spine, maintained an effortless manner, as though she were simply lounging against the sturdiness of her own perfection.

♥ The night drew back, large and empty, no longer lying against her skin. She felt really alone now. But here’s the thing— suddenly, she felt as though she belonged inside the aloneness, and that feeling made her whisper aloud, “I never have before. I’ve never felt at home with myself.”

♥ She thought was angry but instead she plopped herself down on her bed, put face in her pillow, and laughed.

“What a joke”, she said, sounding to herself like the movie incarnation of Lydia Bennet. “I come for Mr. Darcy, fall for gardener, and get propositioned by the drunk husband.”

♥ Jane took the morning slowly, as all Regency and recently scorned women must.

Guy between boyfriends #6 and #7

Paul Diaz, TWENTY-SOMETHING

He was in her watercolor class, so cute and the sweet kind of shy. They obviously clicked, the attraction thrilling between them, inspiring her to relish the infatuation freshman-style and write his name in her notebook in curvy, flowery script. She gave him openings but guessed he was too timid to ask her out. The day after finals, she ran into him at the deli on campus and thought she had nothing to lose.

“My work is having this fancy dinner party next weekend, the food’s supposed to be great. Would you like to go with me?”

“Oh, uh, maybe, I’ll have to check”, he said. Then, “What was your name again?”

There’s always something to lose.


♥ “One reason why I am unmarried is because there aren’t enough men with guts to put away their little boy fears and commit their love and stick it out.”

“And perhaps the men do not stick it out for a reason.”

“And what reason might that be?”

“The reason is women.” He slammed his book shut. “Women make life impossible until the man has to be the one to end it. There is no working it out past a certain point. How can anyone work out the lunacy?”

♥ As a general rule, conversation is more intimate in a crowd, but among only six people, every word, and silence, became public.

♥ As she gave herself pause to breathe in that idea, the truth felt as obliterating as her no Santa Claus discovery at age eight. There is no Mr. Darcy. Or more likely, Mr. Darcy would actually be a boring, pompous pinhead.

♥ ..why was she always so worried about the Austen gentlemen, anyway? What about the Austen heroine? Even poor Fanny Price leaned back, held her ground, and waited for her Edmond to come eventually to her. And Elizabeth Bennet— wonderful Elizabeth! Remember how quickly she learned her lesson after Wickham and laughed it off? Remember how easily she let the disappointment of Colonel Fitzwilliam slip off her shoulders? Jane was shocked to recognize in her old self more of the anxious, marriage-obsessed Mrs. Bennet than the lively Elizabeth. With her father’s estate entailed away, marriage was not a convenience for Elizabeth—it was life and death. And even so, she managed to laugh and spin and wait to fall really in love.

He left for an internship in Guatemala, a step toward his future career in international affairs. They both cried at the airport.

He returned six months later and didn’t call. Last year, Jane heard that Bobby (“Robert” now) was running for Congress. At a recent polling, he wasn’t doing so hot in the thirty-something jilted female demographic.


♥ The thought rankled. Why was the judgment of the disapproving so valuable? Who said that their good opinions tended to be any more rational than those of generally pleasant people?

♥ She studied Mr. Nobley and wondered why she had the impression that he was dangerous—or would be if he didn’t so often look tired or bored. Was he a sleeping tiger? Or a sack of potatoes?

♥ “I love the paintings. The ones hanging in the gallery, they’re all in the grand style of portrait art, luminous with natural light. The artist isn’t just concerned with outer beauty but takes pains to express the virtue of soul in the subjects and catch that gleam of importance in their eyes. I don’t care how portly or drastically thin, how sickly or sad, all the people in those paintings know that they’re significant. You have to envy that kind of self-assurance.”

♥ Instinct urged her to stomp on the hope. She ignored it. She was firmly in Austenland now, she reminded herself, where hoping was allowed.

Did Austen herself feel this way? Was she hopeful? Jane wondered if the unmarried writer had lived inside Austenland with close to Jane’s own sensibility—amused, horrified, but in very real danger of being swept away.

♥ She had forgotten the thrill she used to feel when buying a new paintbrush, squeezing all those colors onto her palette, smelling the clean natural odor of the oils, the reckless unknown of first spoiling a white canvas. These past years, she had become comfortable with her mouse and computer screen, creating corporate art, lazy and dull. And now, smearing green and gray together, interrupting it with orange, she realized she had loved her last boyfriends as a graphic designer would. But she wanted to love someone the way she felt when painting—fearless, messy, vivid.

♥ Jane’s heart beat impatiently. A ball—things happen at a ball. Cinderella happened at a ball. Jane might happen. She felt hopelessly and wonderfully fanciful.

♥ Then he looked at her. He breathed in. His forehead tensed as if he were trying to think of words for his thoughts, as if he were engaged in some gorgeous inner battle that was provoked by how perfectly beautiful she was. (That last part was purely Jane’s romantic speculation and can’t be taken as literal.)

♥ She was all befuddled. The ball had to be her closure, her triumph. But reminded that for these actor men, she was work, it was getting hard to keep her eye on the ball. She was not who she’d thought she was. No one was.

♥ What a lot of secrets in this place, thought Jane. She’d never before considered that Austen didn’t just write romances and comedies, but mysteries as well.

♥ Oh, perfect, perfect moment.

But even as her heart pounded, she felt a sense of loss, sand so fine she couldn’t keep it from pouring through her fingers. Mr. Nobley was perfect, but he was just a game. It all was. Even Martin’s meaningless kisses were preferable to the phony perfection. She was craving anything real—bad smells and stupid men, missed trains and tedious jobs. But she remembered that mixed up in the ugly parts of reality were also those true moments of grace— peaches in September, honest laughter, perfect light. Real men. She was ready to embrace it now. She was in control. Things were going to be good.

♥ “They’re real, you know” Miss Charming placed her hands beneath her breasts and gave them a hearty shaking.

“Really?” Jane said, gaping openly.

“Oh, yes, real as steel. People always ask, so I thought I’d save you the wondering. As a parting gift.”

“Thank you”, Jane said, and she meant it sincerely. It was good to know what was real.

♥ She believed now in earnest that fantasy is not practice for what is real—fantasy is the opiate of women. And she’d buried her fantasy behind her in the English countryside. Her life now would be open to real possibilities. There was no Mr. Darcy, there was no perfect man. But there might be someone. And she’d be ready.

♥ She took a step back, hit something slick with her boot heel, and tottered almost to the ground. Mr. Nobley caught her and set her back up on her feet.

Is this why women wear heels? thought Jane. We hobble ourselves so we can still be rescued by men?

♥ “Thank you”, she whispered. “Tell Mrs. Wattlesbrook I said tallyho.”

She sauntered away without looking back. She could hear the men calling after her protesting, reaffirming their sincerity. Jane ignored them, smiling all the way back through security, to the gate, down the jetway. Though pure fantasy, it was exactly the finale she’d hoped for.

She liked the way it had ended, had enjoyed her last line. Tallyho. What did that mean, anyway? Wasn’t it like, the hunt is on, or something? Tallyho. A beginning of something. She was the predator. The fox had been sighted. It was time to run it down.

Okay, Aunt Carolyn, she said in a little prayer. Okay, I’m ready. I’m burying the wishful part of me, the prey part of me. I’m real now.

♥ He rested his head back, and they looked at each other, their faces inches apart. He always was so good at looking at her. And it occurred to her just then that she herself was more Darcy than Erstwhile, sitting there admiring his fine eyes, feeling dangerously close to falling in love against her will.

♥ So what was she to do? She was no longer prey to the fantastical idea of love, but if she could have something real… Was there anything real?

♥ “But wait, stop, it’s not supposed to end this way! You’re the fantasy, you’re what I’m leaving behind. I can’t pack you up and take you with me.”

“That was the most self-centered thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

Jane blinked. “It was?”

“Miss Hayes, have you stopped to consider that you might have this all backward? That in fact you are my fantasy?”

♥ Her stomach dropped as they fled higher into the sky, and they kissed recklessly for hundreds of miles, until Henry was no longer afraid of flying.
Tags: 2000s, 21st century - fiction, 3rd-person narrative, acting (theatre) (fiction), american - fiction, author: jane austen (by a different auth, books on books (fiction), british in fiction, chick lit, fiction, humour (fiction), romance, series, tourism (fiction)
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