Austenland: A Novel, by Shannon Hale – A Review

Austenland: A Novel, by Shannon Hale (2008)Mr. Darcy.  Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy. What is it about Jane Austen’s male protagonist in Pride and Prejudice — this aloof, arrogant man — that draws women to him like a moth to a flame? The mere mention of Mr. Darcy, sighs and dreamy-eyed, flushed expressions flourish.  But enough about me.  Back to  Austenland: A Novel. Author Shannon Hale undertakes modern day career woman, Jane Hayes and her secret addiction to the 1995 A&E television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and all things Darcy (specifically the sexy, dripping-wet-shirt-out-of-the-lake scene Mr. Darcy, played by the handsome Colin Firth) and launches her into a fantasy vacation to Pembroke Park in England. Never heard of it? Neither did our female protagonist, who came up empty, even when she Googled it! As it turns out, she has inherited from an eccentric great aunt, an all-expense paid excursion to the ultra-exclusive country estate in Kent, catering to the romantic sensibilities of super-rich trophy wives whom, by the way, happen to be Austen fans or at least those who hold a tendresse for men in britches and Hessian boots. The brochure reads, “Enter our doors as a house guest come to stay three weeks, enjoying the country manners and hospitality – a tea visit, a dance or two, a turn in the park, an unexpected meeting with a certain gentleman, all culminating with a ball and perhaps something more… Here, the Prince Regent still rules a carefree England. No scripts.  No written endings. A holiday no one else can offer you.” 

And so, Hale’s Jane decides to indulge in this one last Pride and Prejudice hurrah before cutting her ties to Mr. Darcy forever. And by that, she means to get on with the business of her real life, relinquish her Regency Era fantasies, and quit comparing every man she meets to “you know who.”  Upon arrival at the estate, she is met by the shrewd proprietress Mrs. Wattlesbrook, who promptly renames our anxious Jane Hayes to Miss Jane Erstwhile, all the while explaining the strict rules and standards to maintain authenticity as well as dictating a brief course in Regency decorum. Quickly Jane tires of the uncomfortable clothing, over done role-playing and false pretenses, and is quite determined to find her own adventure – with Theodore, the gardener! After a bit of bungling about with Theodore and tripping all over herself with the other guests and actors, she finds that all is not as it appears. And like in so many other faulty choices in her real life, Jane finds she has been dilly-dallying with the wrong man. It was very easy to relate to Jane Haye’s Darcy -complex — and I found myself pleasantly yielding to her real life anxieties, disappointments and cheering for the pseudo Darcy character, Mr. Nobley (another of Hales fun, yet campy play with her character’s appellations.). My Janeite sensibilities were never in danger of offense, even by Hale’s blatantly contrived happy ending. Because we all know, happy endings were one of Jane Austen’s specialties. 

I admit that I didn’t buy Austenland in 2007 when it was first published as I thought the premise was kooky — obviously I have been taking myself way too seriously. I am kicking myself now for not having read this sooner!  This fun melodrama was an amusing page-turner leaving me wanting to know,  “Where do I make a reservation?”  If only.  *Sigh* Thank you Shannon Hale.  Your book left me with a happy heart! 

Christina

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Austenland: A Novel, by Shanon Hale
Trade paperback (208) pages
Bloomsbury USA (2008)
ISBN: 978-1596912861

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The Sunday Salon: Preview of Oxford World’s Classics: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe: Day 16 Giveaway

Her present life appeared like the dream of a distempered imagination, or like one of those frightful fictions, in which the wild genius of the poets sometimes delighted. Reflection brought only regret, and anticipation terror. How often did she wish to “steal the lark’s wing, and mount the swiftest gale,” that Languedoc and repose might once more be hers! The Mysteries of Udolpho, Chapter 22

Welcome to The Sunday Salon as we discover new books and offer a review or two. Today as we continue to explore Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I thought it quite timely of Oxford University Press to redesign and release their 1998 edition of Ann Radcliffe’s, The Mysteries of Udolpho during the Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey event here at Austenprose. Readers will kindly recall that it is one of the Gothic novels that character Isabella Thorpe recommends to her new impressionable friend, and our heroine in the making, Catherine Morland. After she quickly devours the book it ‘Gothicizes’ her view of the world, coloring her perception of real-life experiences. Having not read Udolpho myself, I am more than a bit curious about what it contains and have moved it to the top of my book queue on my nightstand. Here is an overview from the publisher’s description. 

A best-seller in its day and a potent influence on Austen, Sade, Poe, and other purveyors of eighteenth and nineteenth-century Gothic horror, The Mysteries of Udolpho remains one of the most important works in the history of European fiction. After Emily St. Aubuert is imprisoned by her evil guardian, Count Montoni, in his gloomy medieval fortress in the Appenines, terror becomes the order of the day. With its dream-like plot and hallucinatory rendering of its characters’ psychological states, The Mysteries of Udolpho is a fascinating challenge to contemporary readers. 

First published in 4 volumes by G. G. and J. Robinson of London in 1794, Mrs. Radcliffe was paid the handsome sum of £500 for her manuscript which would be worth approximately £28,015.00 today or about $44,580.06 in US funds. This amount is impressive, even for a modern day author. I dare say that Jane Austen would have been happy with that sum for her novel Northanger Abbey instead of the £10 that she originally received from Crosby & Co in 1803, only to see it languish on their shelves unpublished for six years before she bought it back. Happily, this novel did not experience such a winding publication history, was an immediate best seller, and has never been out of print. This edition includes an interesting and enjoyable introduction and explanatory notes by Terry Castle, an 18th-century literature authority and Professor of English Literature at Stanford University, textural notes, a select bibliography, and a chronology of Ann Radcliffe. Here is an excerpt from Prof. Castle’s introduction to entice you. 

Perhaps no work in the history of English fiction has been more often caricatured – trivialized, misread, remade as hearsay – than Ann Radcliffe’s late eighteenth-century Gothic classic The Mysteries of Udolpho. Some readers, indeed, will know Radcliffe’s novel only as hearsay: as that delightfully ‘horrid’ book – full of castles and crypts and murdered wives – pressed upon Catherine Morland, the gullible young heroine of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817), by her Bath friend Isabella Thorpe. After consuming the book in a great reading binge, the impressionable Catherine begins to see the everyday world around her as a kind of Gothic stage-set against which friends and acquaintances metamorphose – absurdly – into outsized Radcliffean villains and victims. The results are amusing: Northanger Abbey remains one of the great spoofs on reading-as-hallucination. But Udolpho itself is mere pretext – the intertextural cliché, or thing already known, upon which Austen builds her chic comedy of misapprehension.  Prof. Terry Castle (vii)

Mayhap Ms. Castle neglected to remember some of Mr. Shakespeare’s works before she crowned Udolpho the most caricatured, trivialized or remade in the history of English literature — but I will overlook the slight! Udolpho is a significant literary achievement, remarkably innovative for its time and profoundly influential even today. It takes a “stout heart” and “nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry” to tackle its 693 pages, and I plan to work away at it as I can over the next few months. I hope to be totally Gothicized!

Further reading

  • Read about The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • Read about authoress Ann Ward Radcliffe
  • Read about the ‘Northanger Canon’ at Jane Austen in Vermont
  • Read about the ‘Horrid’ novels in Northanger Abbey by James Jenkins
  • Read about the Long Publishing History of Northanger Abbey at Jane Austen’s World
  • Check out this biography on Ann Radcliffe, The Mistress of Udolpho, by Rictor Norton

 

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 16 Giveaway

Oxford Word’s Classics edition of The Mysteries of Udolpho (2008)

By Ann Radcliffe 

Oxford University Press (2008). The new re-designed edition includes a full unabridged text of The Mysteries of Udolpho, an introduction by Terry Castle and loads of great supplemental material. A nice compact medium sized edition with textural notes, biography and chronology on the author, and explanatory notes 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of The Mysteries of Udolpho (2008), by Ann Radcliffe

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Upcoming event posts
Day 17 – Oct 27          Guest Blog – Gothic Classics Volume 14
Day 18 – Oct 28          Group Read NA Chapters 25-28
Day 19 – Oct 29          NA & MU Resources
Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31