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!
Lately, it seems lately like we all want to get inside of literature: to have our own holodeck or other scifi virtual reality device. It’s the promise of escape.
So I think the most interesting takes on the Jane Austen novels are the ones where people from our world, the “real world,” enter the world of the books. And what ensues? In Jasper Fforde‘s books, Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next works in a kind of meta-book world (lord, I said “meta”—just shoot me now), where she devotes herself to keeping literature the way we know it. In First Among Sequels, Thursday has to prevent Pride and Prejudice being turned into a reality book, where the characters have to perform tasks and will be voted out by chapter. She succeeds of course; Fforde is not attempting realism here, though his wry look at the silliness of the world around us is well worth getting into.
Have you seen Such Tweet Sorrow? It’s a real-time tweeting of Romeo and Juliet, a collaboration between Mudlark and the Royal Shakespeare Company. So it’s almost like Romeo and Juliet: The Reality Show, and given the plot of Romeo and Juliet, no, they don’t encourage the actors to turn up the drama! It’s as authentic to the play as possible. I think it’s the next step in bringing literature into a virtual world setting.
Then I had a vision: Could we find volunteers to live out Pride and Prejudice and tweet about it in real time? Or live it as a reality show? I feel dizzy—can I really have made this up myself? Someone tell me people have already done this! Readers, I know you would sign up! Wouldn’t you?
Why, even now, you can take tours of filming locations for the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice and have supper at Longbourn. If you’re Sandy Lerner, co-founder of Cisco Systems and Urban Decay, you can even put on a ball at Chawton House and have Mr. and Mrs. Darcy come host it. As Ms. Lerner says, “Life is short. Why watch other people doing stuff?” She would sign up for a virtual Regency machine, I’m sure.
I’ll admit to mixed feeling about pretending to live in the Regency in general or inside a Jane Austen novel in particular.
For one thing, I like to dress up and drink tea and all, but in the end, how much does that have to do with Jane Austen and why you read her? Maybe I would get a romantic thrill from being trotted around the dance floor by a tall, silent man, all while displaying wit and cleavage. Maybe I just wouldn’t want to admit that part of that thrill was based on a scene from a novel, i.e., from someone else’s head. I am a snob about my fantasy worlds. (I like them to be my own.) And I read Jane Austen because she’s funny, not because she wore Empire dresses.
For another thing, if I was actually living in a novel, I think my adventures would go a lot like Amanda Price’s. Lost in Austen has, dare I say it?, a realistic take on living your fantasy: Pride and Prejudice addict Amanda Price finds herself inside the book, which Lizzie has vacated for modern life, and she wreaks havoc on the plot, all while trying to restore it to what she knows it should be. Kind of like a baby with a birthday cake. Kind of like an Austen fan’s nightmare. Not the same thing at all as reading the book, and having it be in your own head.
So, what do you say? Meet me in Holodeck 3 for the ball at Netherfield? Or will we apply the lessons of Jane Austen to this life? I must admit the holodeck does sound more fun. But then, doesn’t it always?