lost in austenland with the jane austen book club

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

RECOMMENDED for home movie viewing: in this case, a triple-feature based on the works of a fa­mous nov­elist whose name has been known to scare oth­er­wise brave men. (And it may take a few nights to watch the three, as they take up more than six hours of time.) The three videos are The Jane Austen Book Club and Austen­land and the tele­vi­sion mini-series Lost In Austen.

Even whisper “Jane Austen” and you may in­deed strike a wee bit of terror into the heart of many an oth­er­wise avid book-lover/reader, if only as a member of an al­ready feared class of writers one is doomed to face in any class that dares go be­yond Eng­lish Lit. 101—the 19th cen­tury Eng­lish novelist.

Reading Jane Austen’s novels can be a daunting task for today’s reader. They are written in a style that clashes with many con­tem­po­rary rules, givens, and stric­tures, es­pe­cially those in­ter­minably long sen­tences punc­tu­ated in a manner seemed in­tended to drive the reader mad with consternation.

Aside from that, once one re­laxes into the lan­guage and the stylisms of the pe­riod, she’s a great read!

De­spite having pub­lished only four novels in her life­time, she is a touch­stone in modern Western lit­er­a­ture and a nec­es­sary read for anyone wanting a real knowl­edge of the novel’s his­tory. Her six novels are:


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In what order?

A common opinion is to read Pride And Prej­u­dice first fol­lowed by Sense And Sen­si­bility. Ap­par­ently, that will hook many a reader and then the others can be read in chrono­log­ical order of pub­li­ca­tion (and note that the last two ti­tles were pub­lished posthumously).

Sense And Sen­si­bility (1811)
Pride And Prej­u­dice (1813)
Mans­field Park (1814)
Emma (1815)
Northanger Abbey (1816)
Per­sua­sion (1818)

Dig­ging in and reading all six books can be an eye-opening ex­pe­ri­ence for the modern lit­erary ad­ven­turer, and that is what six char­ac­ters do in Karen Joy Fowler’s novel The Jane Austen Book Club (2004), and they do again in the movie of the same name (2007).


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The Jane Austen Book Club

Pro­duced by John Calley, Julie Lynn, and Diana Napper, The Jane Austen Book Club was written and di­rected by Robin Swicord. It stars Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Kathy Baker, Amy Bren­neman, Maggie Grace, and Hugh Dancy (the book club) with Kevin Zegers, Marc Blucas, Jimmy Smits, and scene-stealer Lynn Red­grave as a delu­sional ex-hippie gramma.

Ba­si­cally, the story is simple: a group of five women form a loose ‘club’ to read Jane Austen’s novels and then get-together and drink wine and dis­cuss the books. Needing a sixth, a man whom none of the others know is in­vited for var­ious rea­sons into the club and to everyone’s sur­prise, ap­pears and takes every­thing seriously—specially the one woman who does not want any man taking her any where.

While a bust at the box office—Sony Pic­tures lost millions!—the movie was rea­son­ably well ac­cepted by the critics:

“Austen devo­tees are sure to lap up the cen­tral premise that her no­tions of love and friend­ship are as rel­e­vant today as ever. If The Jane Austen Book Club gets people thinking about forming a club of their own, it will have served a more ad­mirable pur­pose than most movies.” (Ruthe Stein)

“Like the other movies and tele­vi­sion projects in a Jane Austen boom that con­tinues to gather mo­mentum, it is an en­ter­taining, care­fully as­sem­bled piece of clock­work that im­poses order on ever more com­pli­cated gender war­fare.” (Stephen Holden)

The movie is en­joy­able throughout—especially for the uni­formly fine acting—even if at heart is a “for­mu­laic, feel-good chick-flick.” While the fe­male ac­tors would seem to be re­ceiving the bulk of the director’s at­ten­tion, the men shine in their roles, each a re­flec­tion of Austen’s often mis­un­der­stood male characters.

And fellow guys: this ain’t no just-a-chickflick! Well, okay, it kinda is . . . but if you’re single you might learn some­thing about meeting women. And if you’re hooked up, you’ll get points with the wife or girl­friend if you pick this movie out and bring it home with a nice bottle of wine for your weekly movie-watching evening. Oh, and if you don’t al­ready drool over Emily Blunt, you will after The Jane Austen Book Club.


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Lost in Austen with Amanda Price

In 2008, ITV of the UK (for­merly In­de­pen­dent Tele­vi­sion) adapted Pride And Prej­u­dice into a modern time-travel fan­tasy ti­tled Lost In Austen. Written by Guy An­drews, it starred Jemima Rooper with Alex Kingston, Hugh Bon­neville, Morven Christie, El­liot Cowan, and Gemma Arterton. Since it has been a while since I saw this se­ries, I will let the Wikipedians do the talking:

“Amanda Price is a keen Jane Austen fan from present-day Ham­mer­smith who has just re­jected an un­ro­mantic mar­riage pro­posal from her boozy, un­faithful boyfriend. Amanda ex­plains to her mother that Jane Austen’s novel has shown her that she can set higher stan­dards for a hus­band for her­self. She also dis­covers Eliz­a­beth Bennet, a char­acter from Pride And Prej­u­dice, in her bathroom

Amanda steps through a se­cret doorway and finds her­self at Long­bourn, the house of the Bennet family, and ap­par­ently in the novel near the be­gin­ning of the story. She is trapped in this world while Eliz­a­beth is in 21st cen­tury London. De­spite the mix-up, Amanda tries to en­sure that the novel pro­gresses as it should ac­cording to Austen’s in­ten­tions, but she keeps messing it up.”

The show is en­gaging and hu­morous and while it helps greatly to be fa­miliar with Ms. Austen’s novel, it is not nec­es­sary to un­der­stand the plot or the char­ac­ters. The plot does call for var­ious cul­tural anomalies:

The four episodes run 45 min­utes each, so the en­tire se­ries is three hours of ex­tremely plea­sur­able viewing on a single DVD. And fellow guys, this ain’t no just-a-chickflick ei­ther! Well, okay it kinda is, but since it is a time-travel story of sorts, think of it as a science-fiction/fantasy movie you missed along the way. And be pre­pared to have a BIG crush on Jemima Rooper by the end of the series.


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Austenland with Kerri Russell

The third in our triple-feature is last year’s Austen­land, an­other fan­tasy with a some­what dif­ferent slant than Lost In Austen. It is a British-American movie pro­ducd by Stephenie Meyer and di­rected by Jerusha Hess. The movie is based on Shannon Hale’s novel (2007) of the same name, which is in­tended to be the first in a series.

It stars the lovely Keri Rus­sell as a woman ob­sessed with the novel Pride And Prej­u­dice who travels to a British re­sort called Austen­land, where the Austen era is recre­ated in set and by pro­fes­sional ac­tors. Co-stars in­clude JJ Feild, Jane Sey­mour, Bret McKenzie, James Callis, and the inim­itable Jen­nifer Coolidge.

This is easily the lightest fare of the three movies. And fellow guys, be­ware: this is a most def­i­nitely chick­flick, but the char­ac­ters of dumb-as-an-American Miss Charming (Coolidge) and the daffy-as-an-Englishman Colonel An­drews (Callis) el­e­vate the film to a comedic level and jus­tify a viewing.

And while Ms. Rus­sell does not have the bla­tant sen­su­ality of Ms. Blunt or the loopy charm of Ms. Rooper, I can as­sure you that more than a few of you will want to see other movies simply to see her again.


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Austenland in America

The craze for Jane Austen is not over with: Austen­land was the first in what may be a se­ries of similar-themed books. Ms. Hale fol­lowed it with Mid­night In Austen­land in 2012. A movie ver­sion of Lost In Austen based on the UK se­ries has been planned for sev­eral years.

A draft for the script was left un­fin­ished by Nora Ephron at the time of her death in 2012. Carrie Brown­stein, the co-creator and co-star of the idio­syn­cratic tele­vi­sion se­ries Port­landia will be picking up where Ephron left off.

Alas, no new novels are ex­pected from Ms. Austen so this is what we have to be lost in Austen­land. Oh, the image at the top of this page is a pro­posed Eng­lish bank note to be is­sued in 2017.




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