LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
We have a new addition to the five-foot shelf of books inspired by Jane Austen, the English novelist. More than a hundred years ago, Ms. Austen wrote "Pride and Prejudice," a novel which combined social commentary with every young woman's dream of romance to devastating effect. Millions of women of every age read and reread the books partly because of the love story between Ms. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, and partly because of the very funny situations and characters around them.
Shannon Hale has written a frothy little tale about those readers, especially the women who are reading for romance, concentrating on the dark and stormy character of Mr. Darcy.
Ms. Hale joins us from Salt Lake City from NPR station KCPW. Welcome.
Ms. SHANNON HALE (Author, "Austenland"): Thank you so much, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Now, what you've done in this book, which is what makes it a funny book, is that you've created an Austen theme park for all those obsessed ladies who have never quite met their Mr. Darcy.
Ms. HALE: Yes.
WERTHEIMER: Now, where did that idea come from?
Ms. HALE: Well, when I first became somewhat obsessed with Mr. Darcy, I just started thinking wouldn't it be nice to go somewhere where you could put on the outfits and live in that environment and just see what it was - would've really been like. And that was about, oh, 10 years ago when I first began to contemplate that idea. It took that long for me to develop a story out of it.
WERTHEIMER: So, a sort of a Disneyland for Darcyphiles?
Ms. HALE: Oh, yes. If only there were such a place.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WERTHEIMER: Well, now in "Austenland," as you described it, everyone has to take a quick lesson in the manners and history of Regency England. They dress in the empire styles. They dance the figures that we've seen in all the Jane Austen movies. It's a very expensive theme park for the obsessed, but do you think there are real people like that out there, people who would pay the big bucks to have that kind of fun?
Ms. HALE: Oh, absolutely. I've had so many requests already from people saying, do you know of such a place? Is it real? Can I go there? It's interesting because the Regency period was such a short period, relatively, but we're so interested in it just because of Jane Austen. And it's not so much that we want to wear those really uncomfortable corsets and rather hideous empire-waist gowns, but we want to be in the place where Jane Austen's novels took place.
WERTHEIMER: You dedicated the book to Colin Firth who played Mr. Darcy in the most recent but one movie version of "Pride and Prejudice."
Ms. HALE: Right.
WERTHEIMER: The most recent being the one with Keira Knightley. Why did you dedicate it to Colin Firth?
Ms. HALE: It's really Colin Firth that this is all about. Because Jane Austen's books are fabulous, I mean, I really think probably "Pride and Prejudice" is the greatest novel ever written. But what changed was when that BBC version came out - that movie came out starring Colin Firth - and by taking away the narrator and just having the story, it became this most luscious romance and Colin Firth became Mr. Darcy. And he's embodied this romantic desire of so many women over the last decade.
I've received scads of e-mails since this book came out just a couple of weeks ago saying that they've been shocked when they read my book because they thought they were the only one in the world who watched and re-watched again and again that BBC miniseries version. And fantasized about Mr. Darcy.
WERTHEIMER: In fact, just - your character in the book watches and re-watches that one little section where Elizabeth is visiting her friend and he comes to the house and makes his declaration and she basically says, say what? What are you talking?
Ms. HALE: Yes. There are those parts that true fans of that movie know exactly where those - the best parts are. They will re-watch them again and again. Colin Firth coming out of the lake, Colin Firth looking at Elizabeth over the piano.
WERTHEIMER: In a wet shirt, probably.
Ms. HALE: Yes, in a wet shirt. Yes.
WERTHEIMER: And it...
Ms. HALE: That sealed his fame.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WERTHEIMER: So did you have any qualms about undertaking - even in a sort of satirical way, taking Jane Austen on?
Ms. HALE: You know, I didn't even think about it until I was almost done with the book. I really just had this idea, this character, this story wanted to tell. And I just thought, oh, other people have experienced this odd obsession with Mr. Darcy and I want to explore that and tell a story that might make us laugh at how absurd that is.
And then when I was - when it was nearly up, people started pointing me to these fan Web sites, which I had never attended before, and I realized the amount of worshipfulness that people have for Jane Austen, and I thought, oh, they're going to hate me. They're going to hate me. This is sacred ground.
And it is interesting to see the reactions I get. And some people just - you should not touch Jane Austen. She should exist in a separate sphere. And other people who've experienced the same kind of infatuation as I have with Mr. Darcy in these movies are happy to be able to step back and laugh at it, but there's been really two extreme reactions.
WERTHEIMER: Shannon Hale, thank you so much for speaking to us. You should picture me making a tiny little curtsy. The book is called "Austenland." Thank you.
Ms. HALE: Thank you so much, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: You can read an excerpt about the stately, make-believe elegance of the Jane Austen themed resort at our Web site, npr.org/books.