For immediate release: Austenacious requests proposals for a JANE AUSTEN THEME PARK!
Goals: To have a fun place irl to hang out with our peeps, being sarcastical, laughing at our neighbors, and trying not to be sport for them in return. Why? Why not, she said!
Rules for theme park proposals:
Note, we are not talking about some kind of holodeck adventures where we roleplay with low-rent actors dressed up as Mr. Darcy, ala Austenland. That is not a theme park. Nor is it, as AustenBlog pointed out, ironic enough for the Austen fans. We are as ironic as all hell, damn it. That is why we are Austen fans!
Nor, actually, do we want some kind of honest attempt to immerse tourists in Jane Austen’s Bath, or her villages, or even her country houses, with actors waylaying you and attempting to interact or something. How pathetically embarrassing! (OK, I am scared of those people. I admit it.) That sort of thing may be fine for Dickens’ World, but honest, vulgar sentimentality is not for us.
And we have no desire to sully Chawton, Bath, or even Lyme Regis with our water slides. You are talking to someone who almost cried when she saw the Anne of Green Gables theme park, Rainbow Valley.
But Austen is not Brontë. (I guess you knew that.) We can have some ironical, Austen-spirited fun, right? Sure, Bath is practically a Regency theme park, but the essence of Austen isn’t the world—it’s the snark. So we need a theme park with some snark, some fun, a Louisa Musgrove Drop ride, OK, yes, a Colin Firth splashing into the water roller coaster, and maybe Lady Catherine vs. Elizabeth Bennet paintball. The rest is up to you.
That’s the goal. Now hit us!
Is it just me, or do you get the tiniest twinge of excitement when you hear something about the upcoming royal wedding? When the subject comes up around anyone around my age or older, we reminisce about getting up in the wee hours to watch Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981. Diana wore the puffiest of puffed sleeves, the likes of which would make Anne Shirley swoon with delight! She was so young and lovely, and I wanted to be a princess just like her! Of course, now I think the dress is sort of hideous, and we all know what a disaster the marriage turned out to be.
Even in Jane Austen’s time, the royals weren’t so good at marriage. Apparently, while George IV was just a young prince, he secretly married a woman named Maria Fitzherbert, who was not only a commoner, but also Catholic. Big no-no considering he wouldn’t be able to become king if he were married to a Catholic (fun fact: the Act of Settlement 1701 is still in effect today!), nor could he marry without the king’s consent (which he didn’t have). Eventually, his crazy dad (King George III, see also “Madness of…”) promised to help pay his debts if he married his cousin, Caroline of Brunswick. I don’t know if it’s just that she was German, that she was his cousin, or perhaps that she wasn’t particularly easy on the eyes, but they didn’t get along. Things were so bad that in an act of extreme turdiness, he banned her from his coronation. Through the years, George continued his relationship with Maria Fitzherbert, as well as many other mistresses.
I hope for much better relationship between William and Kate—and, despite the odds being against marital harmony, I can’t help but get excited about their wedding. Clearly, I’m not alone, otherwise we wouldn’t have the wedding artistically recreated with Legos or replica engagement rings coming out the wazoo. I am rooting for them, and I wish them the best as I share their joyous occasion along with millions around the world! I’ll be the one wearing the “I (heart) Prince Harry” t-shirt.
It’s not all that often that I’m willing to gush in public about a book that I am also willing to admit I haven’t read.
But this isn’t really public, right? I mean, it’s only the internet.
The book is The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder (accompanying website here), and I love it already. I love it so much that I want everybody here to read it, and then come over for chatter and pie, because nothing complements nostalgic and loving book talk like pie.
This book makes me think of Miss Osborne and her quest to catch up on all of the literary heroines she missed as a girl—Laura Ingalls Wilder and others, surely with more to come—and what a joy it’s been to her and to those around her (note: mostly me), watching her.
It makes me think of my own history with all the classic “girl books” (not to corroborate the infuriating assumption that girls in books have cooties, and might diminish the character of our delicate boys, because come on)—I read most of them during that especially voracious ten-to-thirteen period, and while I’m still a committed bookworm, I think there’s something extra special about the reading we do at that age. Then, I read like I meant it—the characters in the classics became a part of me like no other reading I’ve done. Ironically, I came to Jane slightly later in life—well into my teenage years, and in such a way that I don’t even count her in the same category as my old summer-vacation standbys. But perhaps she’s the beginning of a new category? Perhaps she’s (approximately) where my childhood heroines end (so to speak) and my grown-up heroines begin—Elizabeth Bennet and Co. as ushers into the era of Helene Hanff (as writer and character; sneaky!), Haven Kimmel (same; also this one), Julia Child (ditto), Ruby Lennox, Flora Poste (who might actually be in the wrong category, though I met her as an adult), and so many others. Perhaps they’re the connection to my best inner reader, and I intend to love and venerate them as such, just as I do the Anne Shirleys and the Caddie Woodlawns of my life.
In any case, I’m thrilled about this book, this collection and celebration of so many of the bookish ladies I’ve held dear over the years, and about the friendly discussions it’s sure to bring about. Let the chatter begin. (Also: pie.)
Evening, Miss Osborne’s apartment. A dinner of pigeon pie, forcemeat balls, and sherry syllabub sits demolished on the dining room table; Miss Osborne, Miss Ball, and Mrs. Fitzpatrick lounge around the living room, each trying not to be the one to have to make tea for the group.
Miss Ball: . . . so it’s like that time in Book X when Character Z says—
Miss Osborne: Wait, don’t spoil it for me!
Mrs. Fitzpatrick: What?!
Miss O: I-I haven’t read it yet.
Miss B: How is that possible?
Mrs. F: It’s the best book ever written!
Miss B: I read it in first grade.
Mrs. F: I read it in the womb.
Miss B: That book saved my life.
Mrs. F: You can’t be President unless you’ve read it, you know. It’s in the Constitution.
Miss B: . . . I was in a dark place.
Mrs. F: They say it was the inspiration for “Raindrops and roses and whiskers on kittens.”
Miss B: I heard it’s what makes Superman fly!
Mrs. F: Don’t your parents like you?
Miss B: Or is this some kind of cruel joke?
Miss O: I . . . I don’t think so? I mean, I think they like me.
Mrs. F: Well, it doesn’t matter. They’re cruel.
Readers, it’s true. My parents were cruel, but only because they made me wear my brothers’ hand-me-down Toughskins jeans. They were and are avid readers, and they indulged my reading habits. Still, I managed to miss out on a few classics. To right these terrible wrongs, I’m slowly catching up on the books that apparently failed to shape my young psyche. Last summer, Mrs. F loaned me her tattered and well-loved (and fabulous) Little House books; this summer, I bought myself the entire Anne of Green Gables series. (In my defense, I had seen the movies. I’m up to the fifth book, and squeee! I do love Anne-with-an-E.)
I’ve stayed up late many nights enjoying the world of Anne Shirley, and was also pleased to find that the movie was faithful to the first novel. But I have to admit that I was surprised by the short bio about Lucy Maud Montgomery at the end of the book: apparently, during her college and post-college years, there was a tumultuous time when she was engaged to a cousin she did not love, and was in love with a farmer she thought was not a good match. She ended both relationships and eventually married a minister named Ewan MacDonald. Per the bio, “she did not love MacDonald with any passion, but she respected him, and he was a more suitable match for her than any of her previous suitors.”
I recognize it’s not uncommon to marry without passion, but I was surprised that Montgomery would do so when her heroine also made her way through a series of potential suitors (and ruminated on others’ good and bad relationships)—and then happily entered into a relationship of respect and passion with Gilbert Blythe. My mind keeps going back to Jane Austen, who is often quoted as saying, “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection.” Is that why Jane never married? I assume that when she wrote about the marriage prospects of Lizzy Bennet, Elinor Dashwood, and her other heroines, she gave the reader her ideal vision of a good marriage—one of passion, tenderness, and mutual respect—because that’s what she desired for herself. Without any hard facts to back up my assumptions, I have always felt that Austen was true to her words and chose to remain unmarried because she couldn’t find a husband that could provide her ideal marriage. Who knows? Maybe Austen secretly wished she had married for the sake of being married, and maybe Montgomery was perfectly satisfied in a passionless marriage. But I can’t help but believe that both put their innermost desires into the lives of their heroines. In the meantime, I shall keep myself out of the depths of despair over the lack of my ideal mate by entertaining myself with more stories of Anne-with-an-E, outings with kindred spirits, and tantalizing visions of men with muttonchops.