The Jane Austen Book Club

February 16, 2009

The Jane Austen Book Club, a 2004 book by American author Karen Joy Fowler, and also a 2007 movie adaptation of the same title, based on Fowler’s book.

book-club-bookThe book “The Jane Austen Book Club” takes place near Sacramento, California, and centers around a book club consisting of five women and one man who meet once a month to discuss Jane Austen’s six novels. It was a critical success and became a national bestseller.

The novel takes place over the course of several months in a contemporary university town in California’s Central Valley near Sacramento. Each of the six chapters is dedicated to one of the six book club members as well as one of Austen’s six works. In turn, each of Austen’s novels parallels the individual characters’ experiences with relationships and love.

Jocelyn (Emma Woodhouse in Emma):
an independent, 50-something dog breeder and matchmaker who organized the Jane Austen Book Club. Jocelyn has been best friends with Sylvia since they were eleven and introduced her to her husband, Daniel, when they were in high school. She has never married and has no children. She originally invites Grigg to the book club for Sylvia’s sake, but ends up attracted to him herself.

Allegra (Marianne in Sense and Sensibility):
the young and impetuous daughter of Sylvia and her husband Daniel. Allegra is an artist and a thrill seeker, having been known to sky dive and rock climb, amongst other things.

Prudie (Anne Elliot in Persuasion):
a 28-year-old French teacher at a local high school. She is married to Dean, whom she loves, but she becomes confused when witnessing every-day infatuations between her students, especially when one student in particular flirts with her.

Grigg (represents basically all of Austen’s misunderstood male characters):
an offbeat 30-something, and the only male member of the book club. Grigg grew up the only boy amongst his three older sisters. He is also addicted to science fiction and coincidentally met Jocelyn at a hotel in which they were attending two separate conventions: Jocelyn, a dog breeding convention, and Grigg, a science fiction convention.

Bernadette (Mrs. Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice):
a 67-years-young yoga enthusiast and the most talkative of the members. Bernadette has been married multiple times and is determined to “let herself go” with style. Although she is the oldest of the members, she is the most satisfied with her lifestyle.

Sylvia (Fanny Price in Mansfield Park):
Jocelyn’s best friend, Sylvia is also 50-something years old and is going through a troubling separation with her husband Daniel, who has left her after thirty years of marriage for another woman. Their daughter, Allegra, has come to live with her for the time being.

book-club-movie

The idea of the book club comes from Bernadette (six times divorced), who has this inspiration when she meets Prudie, a prim, married high school French teacher in her mid 20s, at a Jane Austen film festival. Bernadette’s concept is to have six members dicuss all of Austen’s six novels, with each member hosting the group once a month.

Also inducted into the club are Sylvia, a fortysomething housewife who recently has separated from her philandering lawyer husband Daniel after more than two decades of marriage; Sylvia’s 20-year-old lesbian daughter Allegra; Jocelyn, a happily unmarried control freak and breeder of Rhodesian Ridgebacks who has been Sylvia’s friend since childhood; and Grigg, a science fiction fan who’s roped into the group by Jocelyn with the hope he and Sylvia will prove to be a compatible match.

As the months pass, each of the members develops characteristics similar to those of Austen’s characters and reacts to events in their lives in much the same way their fictional counterparts would. Bernadette is the matriarch figure who longs to see everyone find happiness. Sylvia clings to her belief in steadfast love and devotion, and eventually reconciles with Daniel. Jocelyn denies her own feelings for Grigg while playing matchmaker for him and Sylvia. Prudie, encumbered with her inattentive husband Dean and a free-spirited, pot-smoking, aging-hippie mother, a product of the 1960s counterculture, finds herself desperately trying not to succumb to her feelings for her seductive student Trey. Allegra, who tends to meet her lovers while engaging in death-defying activities, feels betrayed when she discovers her current partner, aspiring writer Corinne, has used Allegra’s life as the basis for her short stories. Grigg is attracted to Jocelyn and mystified by her seeming lack of interest in him, marked by her failure to read the Ursula K. Le Guin novels he has hoped will catch her fancy. He also serves as the comedic foil to Jocelyn and Prudie’s very serious takes on the books.

Cast:
Maria Bello as Jocelyn
Emily Blunt as Prudie
Kathy Baker as Bernadette
Hugh Dancy as Grigg
Amy Brenneman as Sylvia
Maggie Grace as Allegra

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