Austenland (Hale)

Shannon Hale, 2007
Bloomsbury USA
208 pp.

Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Predjudice.

When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined.

Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own? (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—January 26, 1974
Where—Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Education—B.A., University of Utah; M.A., Universityof Montana
Awards—Newbery Honor
Currently—lives in Salt Lake City, Utah

Shannon Hale is an American author of young adult fantasy and adult fiction, including the Newbery Honor book Princess Academy, the Books of Bayern series, two adult novels, and two graphic novels that she co-wrote with her husband. Her comic adult novel, Austenland, was adapted to film in 2013.

Early life
Shannon Bryner was born in Salt Lake City, where she began writing at the age of 10. She attended West High School. After high school, she pursued acting in television, stage, and improvisational comedy. She also studied studying in Mexico and the United Kingdom. She spent a year and a half as an unpaid missionary in Paraguay, then returned to the United States to earn her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Utah and a master's in creative writing from the University of Montana. Hale also worked as an instructional designer, developing web-based training for Avaltus and Allen Communication before becoming a full-time writer.

Published works
Her first published book, The Goose Girl, met with numerous rejections until it was finally published in 2003. In 2004 her second novel, Enna Burning, which follows a minor character from The Goose Girl, was published. The third installment in the Bayern series, River Secrets, was released in September 2006. By then Hale had earned numerous awards for her 2005 release, Princess Academy, including the prestigious Newbery Honor. A sequel to Princess Academy came out in 2012, called Palace of Stone.

She has published three adult novels, Austenland, The Actor and the Housewife, and Midnight in Austenland (a sequel to Austenland). She and her husband Dean Hale have also published a graphic novel, Rapunzel's Revenge. A sequel, entitled Calamity Jack, was published in 2010.

A young adult fantasy novel and the fourth book in the Books of Bayern series, Forest Born, came out in 2009.

Personal life
Shannon has four children with husband Dean Hale. The family resides in South Jordan, Utah, where Sharon is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 1/24/2014.)

Book Reviews
Cheeky irreverence…. For all her breezily amused tone, Hale treats Jane and her fellow park "clients" with affection, and she shows that the Janes of today are as likely as the Darcys to shy from commitment.
Los Angeles Times

An homage to Austen and Fielding….Austenland offers hope that after years of fruitless searching for a companion, just when you're ready to give up on love, it will find you all on its own.
Houston Chronicle

he Austen-themed resort called Pembrook Park exists so far only in Austenland, a just-published chick-lit novel by Shannon Hale, whose author's note describes her as "an avid Austen fan and admirer of men in britches." Hale's heroine is a "Sex and the City" career gal who can't keep a boyfriend and who has a crush on Mr. Darcy. Oh, not the "real" one—the one played by Colin Firth in the BBC Pride and Prejudice.

Jane [Hayes] is forced to confront her Austen obsession when her wealthy great-aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her an all-expenses-paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a British resort where guests live like the characters in Jane's beloved Austen novels.... Nods to Austen are abundant in contemporary women's fiction, and an intriguing setup and abundant wit are not enough to make this one stand out.
Publishers Weekly

In her first novel for adults, Newbery Honor Medalist Hale (Princess Academy) puts an intriguing twist on Austenmania by writing about a Jane Austen fantasy camp tailor.... The hijinks that follow are entertaining if predictable. An amusing trifle likely to please chick-lit readers and Austen aficionados who enjoy modern twists on the author's classic tales. —Nanette Donohue
Library Journal

Jane, called Miss Erstwhile for the duration of her stay, tries to get used to corsets and other Regency amusements while sorting out whether the attentions of a Darcyesque Mr. Nobley, not to mention a good-looking gardener, are sincere or part of the show. A clever confection for fans of contemporary Austen knockoffs. —Mary Ellen Quinn

The novel is clever in its depiction of the many ways in which romance can fall away, and Jane is no fool as she attempts to sort out the real from the make-believe.... But ultimately this is a romance novel in which lovers who are meant to be together overcome miscues and misunderstandings before the final clinch. Mindless froth that Austen addicts will love.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Austenland opens, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirtysomething woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her” (1). How does this sentence set the stage for the novel? Compare it to the famous first sentence of Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Which of these universal “truths” is actually true, if either?

2. Austenland, besides chronicling Jane’s stay at Pembrook Park, lists all thirteen “boyfriends” she’s had in her lifetime. How well does the reader get to know Jane’s past? How much has she changed from her first relationship at age twelve to the one that is now just beginning?

3. Jane observes of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice: “Stripped of Austen’s funny, insightful, biting narrator, the movie became a pure romance” (2). What would Austenland be like without Jane’s own funny, insightful, biting narration?

4. Looking at the gallery of portraits in Pembrook Park, Jane feels “an itch inside her hand” to paint a portrait, “but she scratched the desire away. She hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since college” (36). How is Jane’s artistic itch intensified during her stay at Pembrook Park? How does she come to the realization that “she wanted to love someone the way she felt when painting—fearless, messy, vivid” (125)? In the end, has she found that type of artistic love?

5. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, is known for her determination to marry off her daughters and for her frequent social blunders. How does Miss Charming, Jane’s fellow visitor to Pembrook Park, resemble Mrs. Bennet? What are some of Charming’s funny faux pas and verbal blunders?

6. Jane realizes, “Wait a minute, why was she always so worried about the Austen gentlemen, anyway? What about the Austen heroine?” (105) Is the heroine given short shrift by many Austen fans today? Why or why not?

7. Jane calls herself and Mr. Nobley “Impertinence and Inflexibility” (133). How do these nicknames originate? How do these traits compare to the pride and prejudice of Darcy and Elizabeth in Austen’s novel?

8. Jane’s great-aunt Carolyn set the whole Pembrook Park adventure into motion. What do you think Carolyn’s intentions were in sending Jane to this Austenland? Do you think Jane fulfilled those expectations?

9. Jane comes to wonder what kind of fantasy world Jane Austen might have created for herself: “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” (123). Is it possible to guess at Austen’s attitude toward romance by reading her work? Why or why not?

10. Looking at Henry Jenkins, Jane realizes that “just then she herself was more Darcy than Erstwhile, sitting there admiring his fine eyes, feeling dangerously close to falling in love against her will” (190). Are there other occasions in which Jane is more Darcy than Erstwhile? Is it possible that today’s single, thirtysomething woman is more a Darcy than a so-called spinster?

11. Jane walks away from Nobley and Martin at the airport with the parting words, “Tell Mrs. Wattlesbrook I said tallyho” (186). Why does Jane enjoy her last line so much? What does she mean by “tallyho”?

12. What might Jane Austen think of Austenland, if she were alive today? Could she have possibly anticipated how influential her novels would become, even for twenty-first-century audiences? Could she ever have imagined a fan like Jane Hayes?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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