“Didn’t you start a Jane Austen blog?” a good friend of mine asked me yesterday. It sounds true, and it might be true, but as far as I know, it’s not. Nevertheless, I’m probably the biggest Austen fan out of all my friends.
At the end of my very first post on this blog, I quoted one of my favorite movies, Austenland. It’s based on a book of the same title by Shannon Hale and tells the story of an Austen fan who goes to a Regency-themed resort somewhere in England.
Austenland is something like a two week costume party where guests get to be fictional Regency women who sew, dance, and fall in love [with actors playing 19th century men]. While I loved the movie because I saw so much of myself in the main character, I hated the book because it felt like a statement about my own character. I may be a big Austen fan, but I hope that I can better separate fiction from reality than Jane Hayes can when I’m 30.
Austenland as a novel was something I never wanted to confront again, but there was a sequel.
Midnight in Austenland is partially based on Austen’s Northanger Abbey. A few years after Jane meets Mrs. Wattlesbrook, “Miss Charming,” and “Colonel Andrews,” Charlotte Kinder meets them at another Austenland property. Recently divorced, she reads all of Austen’s novels and goes to Austenland so she can feel something again. This fortnight, Colonel Andrews presents the guests with a ghost story and a murder mystery. It’s the perfect entertainment for storms and power outages, and Charlotte is consumed with solving the 18th century murder of nuns at an abbey. It’s all fun and games until she discovers a secret room with a dead body that magically disappears when she tries to show the others.
It’s been a while since I last read a mystery novel, much less one with a missing body. Did Charlotte really find a body? Or was her imagination running away with her in the middle of a thunderstorm? And if there is a dead body, whose body was it?
The romance is just okay, and the descriptions of the costumes are historically inaccurate, but the mystery is fun. I don’t remember if Austenland spent much time talking about Miss Charming’s and Mrs. Wattlesbrook’s backstories (I was feeling too victimized to pay attention to the characters that annoyed Jane), but Midnight resolved some questions left unanswered in the first book. If you’re one of the 25 people I’ve converted into Austenland fans, or someone who’s discovered the book/movie on your own, I definitely suggest reading it.
If Northanger Abbey is a parody of gothic romances full of murder and intrigue, Midnight in Austenland is either itself a Northanger parody, or a weird meta Catherine Morland fanfic. In both, a girl suspects a murder and begins to believe that real life is indeed like the novels about murders in creepy abbeys. The difference is that one mocks those novels, while the second copies them. Is there enough humor to call it a parody? Is it witty enough to call it satire? Or did I just spend three hours reading fanfiction and writing an analytical blog post about it? I don’t know. Read the two books, and let me know what you think 🙂