It is a truth universally acknowledged that Colin Firth is the perfect Mr. Darcy. No one knows this better than Jane Hayes, a thirtysomething New Yorker who has given up on men after a string of disappointing boyfriends. It seems that real men just can’t live up to that ideal brooding handsome romantic figure of Mr. Darcy, from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (specifically, Mr. Darcy of the awesome BBC miniseries). Jane’s elderly great-aunt sees Jane’s obsession and leaves her an unusual gift in her will: a three week vacation in Pembrook Park. This, it turns out, is an estate in England where women go to live the Regency fantasy. For three weeks Jane will dress and act as if it is 1816. Things seem set up to provide her with a romance as well, but she hopes to leave the experience cured of her Mr. Darcy fixation and not succumb to any romantic feelings. And thus begins the most surreal experience of Jane’s life. She is actually living a Regency romance! She is known as Miss Erstwhile, passes her days with embroidery and strolls, wears a corset, eats weird foods, and tries her best to speak as if she is a Jane Austen character. It’s all very weird and trying as she finds herself somewhat repelled by the fantasy/reality, while at the same time giddy about the prospect of a ball and intrigued by Mr. Nobely.
I absolutely loved this book. What an unexpected treasure to have found. I did not know it was coming out, hadn’t heard any hype about it, just happened across it at the bookstore. What drew me in (besides the lovely title and cover) was the author–Shannon Hale is a ya author who’s written a few of my favorite fantasy-fairy tale type books (The Goose Girl, Enna Burning). This is her first adult novel, and while nothing like her previous books I’d so enjoyed, a winner.
A must read for Jane Austen and/or Regency romance romance fans. I doubt there is a Regency reader who hasn’t daydreamed about living in that world and here Jane actually gets to experience it!
Check out Shannon Hale’s website and her amusing inclusion of a letter she sent to Colin Firth.
Aug. 12 Update: I saw Becoming Jane Austen last night, which was just delightful. I thought it did a wonderful job of showing that it was really sucky how you couldn’t just go out and get a job to earn a living–man or woman. That most people were dependent on profitable and sensible marriages, that your welfare could be entirely in the hands of one person, that one could easily be ruined by mildly unconventional or thoughtless behavior. I think we (like Jane in Austenland) tend to romanticize Jane and the time period in our heads, but in fact we are most likely better off living now. The scenery and costumes were gorgeous, and it was romantic, but I thought it was a good dose of likely reality too.