lost in austenland with the jane austen book club

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:

 

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).

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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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